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Brush with history: Postal mural delivered to town offices

Updated 5:52 pm, Friday, March 8, 2013

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  • A 1930s-era mural from the former downtown Post Office has been installed in a meeting room of Sullivan-Independence Hall.  FAIRFIELD CITIZEN, CT 3/7/13 Photo: Genevieve Reilly / Fairfield Citizen
    A 1930s-era mural from the former downtown Post Office has been installed in a meeting room of Sullivan-Independence Hall. FAIRFIELD CITIZEN, CT 3/7/13 Photo: Genevieve Reilly

 

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The town unveiled a special delivery Thursday at Sullivan-Independence Hall.

A historic mural that for years hung in the foyer at the downtown U.S. Post Office on the Post Road, which last year was sold for private redevelopment, has a new address in the second-floor conference room of the town's main municipal office building.

After selling the building, Postal Service officials began to look for a new place to display the 1930s-era mural, one where it could be viewed and enjoyed by the public.

"This is so exciting," said Ellen Hyde Phillips, a member of the Fairfield Arts Advisory Committee, which suggested the location. Phillips oversaw installation of the mural.

Phillips said the mural, painted in 1938 by Alice Flint, was originally thought to have been a project of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, but it turns it out it was commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.

At that time, Phillips said, the mail service was part of the Treasury Department, and 1 percent of every federal building's cost had to go to the arts in some way. "It was a unique program," Phillips said, "but it was not a relief program."

And local postmasters, she said, had the last say on a piece of art, forcing artists to change anything they didn't like.

"They might see a chicken that was not exactly like the ones in their town and the artists would change them," Phillips told the Fairfield Citizen. "Obviously, the postmaster had a lot of power."

Many of the paintings, she said, depicted industry.

The Treasury artwork was selected through competition, and there were 1,400 murals painted and purchased. Of those, 1,001 remain, with the largest collection -- 41 -- in the state of Illinois.

Flint's local work, "Tempora Mutanto et Nos Mutamor in Illis" or "Times Change and We Change With Them," is considered painted in "Expressionism" style and the Postal Service has invested $25,000 for restoration work.

To move the 44-inch by 168-inch mural from the former Post Office to Sullivan-Independence Hall, Phillips said it was rolled in a conservation panel of aluminum aircraft metal. It is pasted onto a frame, and not the meeting room's wall, and has taken over the wall where portraits of past first selectmen once hung.

Phillips said the committee wants to see if more federally commissioned artwork may be available for display in town. "This is just the opening salvo," said committee member Robert Greenberger.

The town doesn't own the mural, it is considered on loan to the town for 25 years from the Postal Fine Arts Collection, with subsequent five year renewals of that loan.

"We hope that this new addition to the history of Fairfield will be one of many cultural enhancements to Fairfield," First Selectman Michael Tetreau said after it was unveiled Thursday.