Western Town (mural study, Helper, Utah Post Office)

  • Jenne Magafan, Western Town (mural study, Helper, Utah Post Office), ca. 1939-1943, oil on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the Internal Revenue Service through the General Services Administration , 1962.8.44

Jenne Magafan’s mural study proposed a nostalgic view of pioneer life for the post office in Helper, Utah. The figures look like actors in a play representing all the local types,” including the rugged cowboy, a woman in homespun, a merchant, and a strapping blacksmith. During the Depression, Roosevelt’s New Deal administration commissioned artists to create uplifting images of hope, community, and patriotism for the walls of post offices across the country. Artists would often talk with the communities before coming up with their subjects. Some chose to focus on industry and a town’s future, while others, like Magafan, created murals celebrating local histories. These offered reassuring images of the past to compensate for an uncertain present. While planning their designs, mural painters kept in mind that their work was much different from easel painting. Murals required strong forms that could be read from a distance, and the staged quality of Magafan’s composition shows her attention to these demands. Despite barking dogs and dustups, her mural proposal conveys a silence and stillness that underscores the mythic quality of the image.

Western Town (mural study, Helper, Utah Post Office)
ca. 1939-1943
25 1243 14 in. (64.8109.9 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Transfer from the Internal Revenue Service through the General Services Administration 

Mediums Description
oil on fiberboard
  • Occupation – craft – smith
  • Occupation – other – cowboy
  • Cityscape – town
  • Study – mural study
  • Animal – dog
  • Landscape – Utah – Helper
  • Figure group
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

More from artist

More Artworks from the Collection