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Mail Service in the Tropics (mural study, U.S. Post Office Department, Washington, D.C.)

ca. 1935-1936 Rockwell Kent Born: Tarrytown Heights, New York 1882 Died: Plattsburgh, New York 1971 pencil and oil on plywood 13 1/2 x 26 1/2 in. (34.3 x 67.3 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Transfer from the General Services Administration 1982.86.2 Not currently on view

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Mail Service in the Tropics (mural study, U.S. Post Office Department, Washington, D.C.)

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Rockwell Kent chose to celebrate Puerto Rico's first airmail delivery in a scene that verges on abstraction. This was a risky approach for a WPA muralist assigned to tell an accessible and hopeful story on the wall of Washington’s Post Office building. The angles play off of each other in a rhythmic and unified design so that the horse's form appears to echo the shape of the airplane in the background. Sparks flew on Capitol Hill when Kent installed the mural, but the debate had little to do with the style of the painting. The artist cleverly included a protest statement in the finished mural. There, the young woman in the foreground holds a letter written in an Eskimo dialect that says, "To the people of Puerto Rico, our friends! Let us change chiefs. That alone can make us equal and free!" Kent received his $3000 fee for the mural and denied that he had shown partisanship, saying that "The cause of independence in Puerto Rico needs no propaganda. Everybody knows that the majority of the people down there are in favor of it."


Animal - horse

Architecture - vehicle - airplane

Figure group

Figure(s) in exterior - rural

Landscape - Puerto Rico

Occupation - service - postman

Study - mural study


paint - oil


wood - plywood