Mount Hope Post Office & WPA Mural
Backstory and Context
The original Mount Hope post office was founded in 1872 around the area known as Warner Town. Luther Warner was the first postmaster and his daughter, Sue, helped with the mail. Many historical records credit her as being the area’s first female postmaster. By the mid-twentieth century, a new location was needed for Mount Hope’s mail services. In 1940, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was directed to create a new building in downtown Mount Hope. United States Treasury Department Supervising Architect Louis A. Simon designed the building with practical assistance from Supervising Engineer Neal A. Melick. The Mount Hope Post Office is one of approximately two dozen federal buildings drafted by the architect and one of his last government projects. This building was intended to combine the post office operations of both nearby MacDonald and Mount Hope into a single location.
The Mount Hope Post Office is a one story brick Colonial Revival building. A hipped roof converges on a small square cupola, which enhances the relatively stocky building’s illusion of possessing some height. The building is square and each side features five bays delineated by six-over-six windows. This style of window is one of the building’s most quintessential Colonial Revival features. A set of double doors under a tympanum are flanked by engaged doric columns. Carved in the tympanum is a bald eagle emblem commonly found on federal buildings. A portico extends over concrete stairs to the doors, though it is not original to the site. Other than this portico, the exterior of the site remains unchanged from its 1940s state of being.
Two years after the completion of the building, Michael Lenson was commissioned to paint a mural in the lobby. Many WPA constructed post offices around the country were selected as mural recipients during the early 1940s. Lenson chose to pay homage to Mount Hope’s history and economic culture by painting a scene depicting coal mining simply titled Mining. On the left of the image, two workers prepare blasting and electrical equipment. In the center, three men shovel coal into a cart to be carried down the tracks and out of the mine; tipples and conveyors are visible outside the mine entrance in the background of the composition. On the right, three more workers actively mine coal from seams, both with a drilling machine and by hand with a pickaxe. Painted in a realist style inspired by Mexican muralists, the image neither glorifies nor vilifies the profession of mining. The figures in the piece are focused and determined but besides this, no emotional content is conveyed.
Mining was quickly recognized as a particularly significant example of WPA sponsored public art. In 1962, just twenty years after the piece’s completion, the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired Lenson’s study for Mining. The work has been included in a number of anthologies and surveys of WPA art over the years. Additionally, the preparatory study for Mining was included in a 2019-2020 exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibition was titled “La Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945.” Beyond his importance to WPA art as a creator, Lenson was also an administrator. The artist emigrated to the United States from Russia in 1911 at the age of eight. He studied art at the National Academy of Design and was awarded the coveted Chaloner Paris Prize to study in Europe. Upon returning to the United States, Lenson was appointed director of WPA mural projects in New Jersey. He has been dubbed “New Jersey’s most important muralist” and “New Jersey’s most distinguished art critic.” Mining remains on view in the Mount Hope Post Office lobby.
Biography, Michael Lenson. Accessed May 20th 2021. http://www.michaellenson.org/biography.html.
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Mining (mural study, Mount Hope, West Virginia Post Office), Smithsonian American Art Museum. Accessed May 20th 2021. https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/mining-mural-study-mount-hope-west-virginia-post-office-14546.
 Official Website of Michael Lenson - WPA Muralist and Realist Painter, Michael Lenson. Accessed May 20th 2021. http://www.michaellenson.org/home.html.
Park, Marlene. Markowitz, Gerald E. Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal. Philadelphia, PA. Temple University Press, 1984.
Post Office Mural - Mount Hope WV, The Living New Deal. Accessed May 20th 2021. https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/post-office-mural-mount-hope-wv/.
Taylor, David L. Mount Hope Historic District, National Register of Historic Places. January 1st 2007. Accessed May 20th 2021. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/fayette/07000785.pdf.
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Cox Jr., Ed. WPA Murals. Accessed May 20th 2021. http://wpamurals.org/mthopewv.htm.