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Ross Crites, Gold-Leaf Artist for the USPS

There are many forgotten or unrecognized forms of art in the New Deal. The following account from the Rev. Dewey Leon Everts Jr., Santa Barbara, California describes one of them:

My Uncle, Ross Crites, had a job for the United States Postal Service from 1935 or so until he disappeared and I have never found him since. Uncle Ross Crites was born Ross Critz, in Coffeen, Montgomery County, Illinois on March 26, 1900 son of James and Myrtle Crites. He traveled the United States of America doing just one thing, over and over again, for the United States Postal Service. He painted in gold leaf in reverse, painting on the inside of the window so it read “United States Post Office” on the outside.

He came through New Douglas, Illinois, Madison County, in 1936 or 37. I sat cross legged, a boy of 8 or 9, I will be 77 next week, watching this man paint with a fine brush, leaving no strokes and wasting no gold leaf using a chalk line for the horizontal, but painting each letter by free hand. I was not allowed to speak while he was painting. It would take a day for two letters for him to complete them. He was an absolute artist. He just happened to paint the original on the windows of the post office and when it began to fade he went back and painted it again. OVER AND OVER AND OVER. I don’t think he would have allowed anyone to take a photograph of him. He was very quiet and unassuming, disliked hypocrisy as much as I do. Every time I write or read anything about Uncle Ross, I can still smell the odor coming from that black paint box.

It was the great depression, he was extremely talented in sign painting, free hand, and it was a job. According to her obituary when my Grandmother Myrtle died, Ross Crites was living in Memphis Tennessee. This aspect of United States Postal Art has basically been ignored, but it was art regardless of what anyone tells you. I watched him do it and it was perfection in sign painting. This man’s hand was so steady, he could have performed eye surgery. But he loved to travel and this was the perfect job for him.

by the Rev. Dewey Leon Everts Jr., Santa Barbara, California