New Deal/WPA Art in Lincolnton, North Carolina

This Post Office mural was funded by the Section of Fine Arts under the Treasury Department and not the WPA.

Lincolnton, NC Post Office
"Threshing Grain" - oil on canvas
by Richard Jansen (1938)
(see story and photographs of the 2004 restoration below)

Reference Source:
Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal
by Marlene Park & Gerald E. Markowitz

Thanks to Jimmy Emerson who contributed the above photograph. Check out the Post Mark Collectors Club (PMCC) Photo page at:

"Threshing Grain" Post Office Mural Restoration Project
by Jason L. Harpe, Executive Director,
Lincoln County Historical Association

On Wednesday, August 10, 2005, the Lincoln County Historical Association, U.S. Postal Service, and members of Lincoln County's arts and cultural community gathered at the Lincolnton Post Office to rededicate the "Threshing Grain" mural painted by Richard H. Jansen. The dedication commemorated the artistic merits of the mural's artist, the conservation efforts of the Association and the numerous project contributors, and the attendance of the artist's stepson, Henry DeMeritte. Organizers and participants celebrated the hard work, dedication, and commitment to art, history and preservation exhibited by the Association's staff, board of directors, and volunteers. Sparked by the interest of an inquisitive Lincolntonian, the Association successfully preserved for posterity one of nation's most cherished works of public art.

"Threshing Grain" was painted by Richard H. Jansen in 1938. The mural measures 14' wide by 4'6" high with a total approximate area of 63 square feet. Jansen used the medium oil on canvas, and completed the mural in 232 calendar days. Jansen painted "Threshing Grain" in his studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The mural was later transported on canvas to Lincolnton by train. The subject matter has a local theme. In a handwritten letter dated September 18, 1937, Jansen suggested an agricultural theme "…as I felt I couldn't go wrong, since the town is certainly bound up with the county around it." Though grain was and still is cultivated in Lincoln County, one must speculate the wheat grown in Wisconsin and the Great Plains influenced Jansen's creative process. Jansen received $610 for painting the Lincolnton mural. On June 9, 1938, Postmaster J.F. Seagle announced in the Lincoln County News the mural's placement in the west end of the building and its depiction of a rural Lincoln County scene.

Richard H. Jansen was born in Wisconsin in 1910 of Norwegian and German ancestry. He graduated from Layton School of Art in Milwaukee in the late 1920's. After graduation, he completed a series of paintings depicting scenes in Civilian Conservation Camps (CCC) under the auspices of the Federal Government. In 1934 he was employed by the Works Project Administration (WPA) and sent to Key West, Florida, where he painted murals depicting the history of Key West as well as its potential as a resort area. Richard Jansen painted murals in 1940 for the Reedsburg, Wisconsin Post Office ("Dairy Farming") and in 1942 for the Sauk Centre, Minnesota Post Office ("Threshing Wheat"). He was drafted into the Army during World War II where he served in the Middle East Theater as official artist-correspondent. After the war, he entered the field of advertising developing media for clients to include Remington Firearms, Mercury Outboard Motors, Miller High Life and other companies. In 1957 he joined the National Park Service. He painted 12 dioramas including those on display in Visitor Centers at Yorktown, Jamestown, Fort Sumpter, Bloody March, Kitty Hawk, St. Simons Island and the Grand Canyon. In 1970 he transferred to the Agriculture Department where he served as Head Illustrator. Richard H. Jansen retired in 1975 and died in January 1988.

During 2000, Lincolnton newcomer Mike Ottinger took notice of the faded mural while standing in line in the Lincolnton Post Office. Participating in Leadership Lincoln, a joint program between the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and Gaston College, Ottinger became very interested in Lincolnton and Lincoln County history, specifically the post office mural. He contacted museums, libraries, and family members in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the artist, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. After three months of extensive research, Ottinger submitted an article to the Lincoln Times-News outlining the U.S. Postal Service's New Deal Arts Collection, the mural's subject, a short biography of the artist, and information on the artist's later works. Lincoln County received Ottinger's article with open arms, but failed to take the project to the next level: restoration.

Over the next three years, Mike Ottinger became a very active member of the Lincoln County Historical Association and discussed the mural and its restoration with Association executive director Jason L. Harpe. After much discussion and planning, Harpe contacted Dalan Wordekemper, U.S.P.S. Federal Preservation Officer, in November 2003 to inquire about the proper steps to begin the process of restoring the mural to its original state. Wordekemper contacted Doris Reed, Lincolnton Postmaster, to explain to the project and its significance, and delegated the leadership of the project to Harpe and Reed. Harpe consulted with two conservation firms for quotes on the mural's restoration and decided in favor of Parma Conservation of Chicago, Illinois. After the initial visit from staff of Parma Conservation, Harpe began the fundraising effort to raise $6,400 to properly restore the mural. Between January and August 2004, Harpe and the Association successfully raised the necessary funds. Thanks to a $3,400 contribution from the U.S.P.S. and contributions from over 20 individuals and businesses in Lincoln County, Parma Conservation began the restoration in August 2004.

The Association has realized important and significant benefits from the mural conservation project. U.S.P.S. has allowed the Association to place in the post office a text and graphic panel that features information on Richard Jansen, the Postal Service's New Deal Art Collection, and the mural's subject. In addition, the panel showcases photographs of the artist painting the mural in his studio in Wisconsin, and images of the conservators cleaning the mural. Henry DeMeritte, Richard Jansen's stepson, was so impressed with the Association's hard work on the mural restoration that he donated to the museum seventeen drawings and paintings from his stepfather's collection. In addition, DeMeritte has included the Association in his will to receive the remaining portion of his stepfather's collection.
The Lincolnton Post Office Mural Conservation Project is an example of how museum and preservation professionals can and should collaborative with the general public to preserve the artistic, cultural, historic, and architectural objects and artifacts in communities across the United States. In Lincolnton, North Carolina, the general interest of a concerned citizen and the commitment and professionalism of a local historical society ignited the interest and support of the local community and public officials.

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© 2005 Nancy Lorance
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