Henrietta Shore and the Santa Cruz Post Office Murals

Artichoke Industry by Henrietta Shore, 1937. The oil on canvas painting is located in in a lunette at the south end of the Santa Cruz Post Office. Photo: Julia Gaudinski.

Artichoke Industry by Henrietta Shore, 1937. The oil on canvas painting is located in a lunette at the south end of the Santa Cruz post office. Photo: Julia Gaudinski

The next time you are standing in line to mail a package or renew a passport in the downtown Santa Cruz, California post office, look at the four murals high on the walls above you. Painted by the renowned artist Henrietta Shore, the murals honor local industries: farming, fishing, and limestone quarrying. They depict the laborers as “dignified, monumental forms.”

“Artichoke Industry,” 1 of 2. Mounted in a lunette at the south end of the main lobby in 1937, above the postmaster’s office in 1937 (oil on canvas, 36 x 72 inches).

“Artichoke Industry,” 1 of 2. Mounted in a lunette at the south end of the main lobby in 1937, above the postmaster’s office (oil on canvas, 36 x 72 inches).

“Artichoke Industry,” 2 of 2. Mounted in a lunette at the south end of the main lobby in 1937, above the postmaster’s office (oil on canvas, 36 x 72 inches).

“Artichoke Industry,” 2 of 2. Mounted in a lunette at the south end of the main lobby in 1937, above the postmaster’s office (oil on canvas, 36 x 72 inches).

These murals, like the post office itself, were paid for by the federal government. The post office was built in 1912 with a grant from the US Treasury Department. The murals came later when they were commissioned in 1935 by the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP). It was in the depths of the Great Depression that followed the stock market crash of 1929, and TRAP was part of the New Deal initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt “to put people to work.” In this case, the people put to work were artists.

“Fishing Industry.” Mounted in a lunette at the south end of the lobby in 1937, facing the main entrance (oil on canvas, 48 x 102 inches).

“Fishing Industry.” Mounted in a lunette at the south end of the lobby in 1937, facing the main entrance (oil on canvas, 48 x 102 inches).

“Limestone Quarries Industry.” Mounted in a lunette at the north end of the lobby in 1937, facing the main entrance (oil on canvas, 48 x 102 inches).

“Limestone Quarries Industry.” Mounted in a lunette at the north end of the lobby in 1937, facing the main entrance (oil on canvas, 48 x 102 inches).

Henrietta Shore, of Carmel, submitted color sketches to TRAP, which commissioned the murals for the Santa Cruz post office. She was paid $233.74 for all four.

Unlike most artists who received TRAP grants, Henrietta Shore was not happy collecting welfare, which is how she saw the TRAP grant. She hated signing a document that said she was “destitute.” Presumably, she saw herself as an important artist who was reduced to begging.

Henrietta Shore painting “Limestone Quarries Industry” in her Carmel, California studio, 1936-1937. This photograph is on display in the lobby of the Santa Cruz post office. 
(Photo: Monterey Museum of Art collection, photographer unknown)

Henrietta Shore painting “Limestone Quarries Industry” in her Carmel, California studio, 1936-1937. This photograph is on display in the lobby of the Santa Cruz post office. Photo: Monterey Museum of Art collection, photographer unknown

Read the rest of the story to learn about Henrietta Shore’s life as an artist, at mobileranger.com.

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Julia Gaudinski


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