Post Office Mural

Source: printed in the Dolgeville Republican, Thursday August 8, 1940, the official paper of the town of Manheim and village of Dolgeville (newspaper now defunct).

This article was contributed by Sarah Israel, who is active in organizing the Zimmerman/Timmerman Family Reunion. According to Sarah, Dolgeville was one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad before Canada.

The Post Office Mural is Completed
Depicts Local Scene of Escaping Slaves in Civil War Period

Cave on Brockett Farm used as hide-away during daytime
      The mural which decorates the wall over the door of the post master's office in the new $30,000 federal, building was completed this week. The picture illustrates a bit of historical fact that is part of the background of this village, "The Underground Railroad" for which there were at least two stations in this immediate neighborhood during the Civil War period, when the slaves of the south were attempting to gain their freedom by escaping from the country. The "Railroad" was the term used to designate the safe route that these Negroes took to win their freedom. The stations were houses, barns, and hide-outs on the property of people who sympathized with the slaves.

Hide-out Brocketts Farm
      The mural in the post office shows a group of these Negroes just coming into the station that was located at Brocketts farm, near the village limits. The slaves have arrived at the point in their night journey where they can hide for the day. Dawn can be seen breaking in the background of the picture, while one of the group holds a lantern to light the way into the cave near the farm. The farmhouse shows through the dim light of the early morning and a farmer is waving a friendly hand to hurry the group out of sight before the light grows brighter. In the light of the lantern one of the slaves is earnestly perusing a printed bill that was used in those times to advertise rewards for runaways. The farmhouse from which the picture was made is on the Connor's farm.

Oldest Form of Painting
The painting is done in fresco which is the oldest form of mural painting. It is a technique of painting with earth or mineral colors that have been ground in water and applied to wet mortar made of lime and marble dust. Carbonization determines the permanency of the work and color.

The James Michael Newells
      James Michael Newell is the artist who did the mural. He was assisted in the work by Mrs. Newell. The Newells live in New York city when they are not traveling around the country doing murals. Mr. Newell was born in Carnegie, Pa., in 1900 and is well known both in this country and in Europe for his work in fresco.
      He studied art in New York city at the Art Student's League and the National Academy of Design in Paris at the Academie Julian and at Paul Baudouin's Fresco school he took up the work in fresco painting and did research in primitive and renaissance frescoes throughout Italy. Mr. Newell continued his studies at the Beaux Arts in Fountainebleau and won the hospital prize there in 1929.

In Many Prominent Buildings
      Included in his work are murals in the Interior Department building in Washington; one that extends around three sides of the library in the Evander Childs high school in New York City. The latter work covers 1200 square feet and took almost two years to complete. For this work Mr. Newell was awarded the gold medal of honor by the Architectural League of New York, an award that is made by that group for the outstanding work of the year. President and Mrs. Roosevelt selected two of Newell's paintings to hang in the permanent collection in the White House. These were American farm life subjects and were done in pastel.
      Mrs. Newell is also well presented in art world having done murals in California and Canada. She paints over the name of Mardy Allen and one of her better known works is in the camp of A. B. Bishop Beau-aujour, in Canada. Mrs. Newell met her husband in Paris while she was there studying and worked with him on the fresco research.

Federal Awards
      The awarding of the decoration of the federal buildings is done through the Fine Arts section of the Federal Works Agency, which is a permanent group created by an act of Congress. One per cent of the funds voted for every public building is set aside by law for the purpose of decoration. On this basis it can be easily figured that the Dolgeville mural cost the government $900. The work is assigned by competition which is open to all artists. These competitions are held at various times and not especially for a particular job that may be assigned. In other words, a capable artist may receive recognition for his ability on some other project than the one he has competed in.

Selection of Subject
      When Mr. Newell was assigned the Dolgeville mural he began a study for a suitable subject. In this he traced the history of this section and the Mohawk Valley back to the early days and made notes on the possible ideas that could be used in the decoration. The "underground railroad" was one of many subjects, but because of its pictorial nature, its close association with the village history and the possibility of using typical valley landscape; it was selected after a conference with the post master Mrs. Roxa Youker. Sketches were sent to Washington and accepted at once.
      The Newells work the year round and at the present time are busy on sketches for another competition in which they hope to get some of the mural decoration that is to be done in the Social Security building in Washington D.C. In his spare moments Mr. Newell lectures at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Art Students' League, and the New School for Social Research. A motion picture film based on his work in fresco is used by the Metropolitan and other large museums and universities throughout the country.

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Created 2/16/01
Copyright © 2001 Sarah Israel/ Martha S. Magill
All Rights Reserved.