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Indian Hunters and Rice Gatherers (Study for St. James, Minnesota Post Office Mural)

1939 Margaret Martin oil on fiberboard 16 3/4 x 36 5/8 in. (42.6 x 92.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Transfer from the General Services Administration 1985.8.20 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 4th Floor, 35B


Luce Center Label

Margaret Martin’s mural proposal for the St. James, Minnesota, post office showed Indians gathering wild rice, hunting fowl, and fishing, emphasizing the harmony between the Land of 10,000 Lakes and its earliest inhabitants. Martin took nine months to complete this work, which has hung in its original location at the post office since June 1940. In the mural, a woman uses sticks to harvest the rice from the stalks, while a man hunts birds with his bow and arrow and another prepares to spear a fish from the stream. This mural would have served as a testimony to the abundance of the land, the value of living on it wisely, and lessons to be learned from its first people. Martin’s image reflects the sympathies of many WPA muralists, who openly expressed the need for images of Native Americans in their New Deal murals. One of Martin’s fellow WPA artists argued that “a reminder . . . to anyone of us of the life in this country that preceded ours can do no harm, especially since that life, in its simplicity and harmony with nature, can be a lesson to us in many ways.” (Park and Markowitz, Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal, 1984)

Keywords

Architecture - boat - canoe

Ethnic - Indian

Figure group

Occupation - domestic - gathering

Occupation - farm - harvesting

Occupation - hunter

Occupation - industry - fishing

New Deal - Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture - Minnesota

painting

paint - oil

fiberboard