Post Office Murals by James Michael Newell

Post Office Murals by James Michael Newell
These murals were photographed at the former U.S. Post Office at Des Plaines, Illinois. 
They are oil paintings on canvas; I believe they are glued to the walls.
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WPA Mural
As a small child, I could not understand why the people at left were so unconcerned with the murders occurring 5 feet away.

The title of this mural is currently unknown. It was painted in 1947.

These murals figure in some of my earliest memories. I grew up in Des Plaines during the 1950s, and trips to the Post Office with my mother imprinted on me wonder, horror and fear at the graphic depictions of sickness and violence.  I know now these period pieces are imbued with racism and brutality, a sickening reminder of the U.S. government-sponsored genocide waged against North American aboriginals; that these murals were financed by the government for display in a public government building speaks volumes about our shameful attitudes.

WPA Mural

The Death of Pere Marquette – Oil on Canvas – James Michael Newell, 1940
This mural represents the famous explorer of the Des Plaines, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers, at his death near Ludington, Michigan, 19 May, 1675. He died at age 39.

James Michael Newell, a fresco muralist, was born on February 21, 1900 in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. During World War I, at the age of eighteen, Newell was enlisted in the Marines. From 1921 to 1923, Newell began to sketch on trips. When Newell was 23 he moved to New York City. Between the years of 1924-1926 Newell studied at National Academy of Design and at Art Student's League.

James Newell was given a scholarship from a Colonel Mills to study in Paris, France. Newell studied painting at Academie Julian, and then fresco at Beaux Arts. While in Paris Newell met an art student, Mardy Allen, who later became his wife. The two researched Renaissance frescoes in Italy. In 1930 Newell assisted La Montagne St. Hubert on frescoes in the American dormitory at La Cite universitaine in Paris.

James Newell returned to the United States in 1913. In the same year he was commissioned by Potomac Electric Power Company to paint murals in lobbies of Washington D.C. offices. During the late 1930's Newell worked under P.W.A.P. and Federal arts project painting eight murals titled "The History of Western Civilization". These murals were also the subjects of the W.P.A. firm, "The Technique of Fresco Painting." Two of Newell's works included "Alaska" and "Insular Possessions" done in the year 1939. In 1940 Newell was commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts of Federal Works Agency to paint "The Underground Railroad". This mural was placed in the Dolgeville, NY post office. In the same year Newell painted an oil on canvas named "The Death of Pere Marquette." This mural was placed in the U.S. Post Office in Des Plaines, Illinois.

James Newell was drafted into the Army in 1941 and spent two years there. After the war, Newell became an illustrator at Sperny Gyroscope in Brooklyn, NY. Newell also did illustrations for Mobil Company but he did not really enjoy that work. Newell maintained his studio in New York City until 1965, finally ending up in Snedens Landing, Palisades, NY Newell will be remembered for being an outstanding fresco muralist. — From The Artist: James Michael Newell  By Kristin Trinka

WPA Mural
At left is the front door to the former Post Office. The clerks' windows were situated under the mural at the right.

Federal Eagle
The Federal Eagle decoration over the front door was used on
hundreds of U.S. Post Offices built during the 20th Century.

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