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48 States Competition

The 48 States Competition (1939)


The following information is quoted from “New Deal Art in Alabama Post Offices and Federal Buildings” Alabama Moments in History

The Treasury Section of Fine Arts was established in October of 1934. It was to be a companion to the construction of federal buildings, which came under the Treasury Department at the time. Originally 1% of the cost of any new federal structure was to be set aside for the decoration of the structure, an arrangement which never worked. The two most common structures built under the New Deal were post offices and courthouses. In the end not all the buildings constructed during this period received decoration.

The standard New Deal post office carried a decorative allotment of $650-750, covering a space about twelve by five feet above the postmaster’s door. The courthouses, larger and more costly, could pay a commission of $3,000 and covered much more extensive surfaces. From the allotted funds the artist was required to purchase all the necessary supplies and pay the costs of installation and photographs. Payment to the artist came in three installments: when the initial sketch was approved, when a scale drawing was approved, and when the final panel was verified as in-place by the local postmaster. Although the Section remained committed to many of its original ideals (to produce high quality art for small-town America, to use local talent whenever possible, and to encourage local participation) they soon realized that anonymous competitions were too difficult for the small post office commissions.

The largest competition undertaken by the Section, the 48 States Competition, was in 1939. Over 3,000 entries were judged and the winning entries were placed in one post office in each state. The winner for Alabama was the mural by Robert Gwathmey in Eutaw, although his submitted sketch was actually for his home state of Virginia. The winners of the 48 States Competition were exhibited around the country and then shown in Life magazine in December of 1939.



The winners of the 48 States Competition from Life Magazine, December 4, 1939, pp. 12-13:

Eutaw Alabama
Safford Arizona
Paris Arkansas
Los Banos California
Littleton Colorado
East Hartford Connecticut
Selbyville Delaware
De Funiak Springs Florida
Convers Georgia
Kellogg Idaho
Hamilton Illinois
Spencer Indiana
Corning Iowa
Seneca Kansas
Hickman Kentucky
Dover-Foxcroft Maine
Eunice Louisiana
Elkton Maryland
Stoughton Massachusetts
Grand Ledge Michigan
St. Paul Minnesota
Leland Mississippi
Jackson Missouri
Great Falls Montana The Great Falls MT mural was placed in the Post Office at Glasgow, MT. The citizens of Great Falls took an “immediate dislike” for the mural. - information from Jimmy Emerson
Schuyler Nebraska
Yerington Nevada
Milford New Hampshire
Bordentown New Jersey
Hot Springs New Mexico
Delhi New York
Boone North Carolina
New Rockford North Dakota
Bridgeport Ohio
Purcell Oklahoma
Burns Oregon
Mercer Pennsylvania
Westerley Rhode Island Westerly RI evidently had sketches made by 4 separate artists, but a mural was never commissioned nor installed. Information from Jimmy Emerson
Mullins South Carolina
Flandreau South Dakota
Lenoir City Tennessee
Lampasas Texas
Helper Utah
Island Pond Vermont Island Pond VT never had a mural placed, sketches were made but the office was “lost in limbo of appropriations contingencies”. - information from Jimmy Emerson
Phoebus Virginia
Shelton Washington
Mannington West Virginia
Chilton Wisconsin
Greybull Wyoming

Pdf (3.88 MB) b&w copy of Life article