Why should we care what post offices look like? Aren't they simply utilitarian structures meant to facilitate the exchange of mail? Why can't they all be boxes made of corrugated metal? As usual, it's not that simple. (Donnelly, L. 2001, Architecture around us, Western Pennsylvania History, p. 8)
Louis A. Simon, whose tenure [as supervising architect] covered the design of some 40,000 new post offices during the Depression, preferred an art deco version of the classical; one wag called it "Starved Classicism." (Donnelly)Starved Classicism is defined by A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (2nd ed.) as
Mean, thin, ill-proportioned, non-style, loosely based on Classicism but displaying little feeling for rules, proportions, details, and finesse, and lacking all verve and elan. It is not to be confused with stripped Classicism, which is usually robust, confident, powerful, and often Sublime.
Traher's remarks in his letter to the selection committee was profoundly revealing of his stereotypical views, his prejudice, and lack of awareness and understanding of the reasons for the very real differences in living conditions. He allegedly just sort of wandered around, sketching out people he saw, making notes of the quiet and calm community, with the plan to put the mural together back in his studio. Did people in DeWitt really let their hogs run loose? I would think not--wouldn't you be concerned about them wandering off, getting stolen, or eating your crops or rooting around in your laundry? It seems to me that might be some artistic license.
I think what art such as this can do is to be used for teaching and understanding of history, of racism and the vestiges of inequality that continue to exist and damage us now, and provide opportunities for understanding. But is it right to do that, particularly knowing that the "learning opportunity" (if it is even attempted) comes at a cost to someone else's emotional well-being, or sense of dignity and personhood? It is a conversation that will not be easy to hear.