I have been to Salt Lake city, Utah several times, and when I’m there I’m always awestruck by the mountains surrounding the Salt Lake Valley. Once I had the occasion to ask someone if he ever got tired of seeing them. My question took him off guard. He hadn’t really thought of the last time he had seen the mountains even though he was literally surrounded by them.
Really being observant of our surroundings, the things that we see and use every day, can give us a newer, richer perspective on our homes, our friends and our town. For example, when was the last time you really looked at the mural hanging behind the service desks at the Manchester Post Office?
Called “Horse Swapping Day,” the mural was painted by New Jersey native, Minna Wright Citron (1896 – 1991) and was originally hung in the post office just off the square in Manchester. The mural was one of two that Citron painted for Tennessee post offices. The other, entitled “TVA Power,” was painted for the Newport, Tennessee Post Office. The Newport mural now hangs in the Cocke County Museum. Both paintings are oil on canvas.
In “Horse Swapping Day,” Citron depicts the Manchester downtown square with the courthouse in the center background and the former post office on the right. In the foreground is a trio of horses and a gentleman looking them over perhaps with an eye to buying them. Although the painting was finished in 1942, when Camp Forrest brought many people and vehicles to our area, it suggests quieter, less mechanized times when driving to town in a horse drawn wagon was the norm.
Citron’s post office murals were commissioned by a part of a group of federal programs known as the New Deal; however they were not funded through the Works Progress Administration (later named Works Projects Administration), as is commonly believed. In fact they were funded by the United States Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture, the most important of three federal visual arts programs of the time. This program was not aimed at providing work to artists, but was meant to uplift a Great Depression-weary public with art in public buildings such as courthouses, federal buildings and post offices. Most of the commissions were awarded though a national competition, and winning artists received around $500 for their work.
Citron’s career spanned literally all of her adult life. After the war, she travelled to Paris where her art took a more abstract less figurative tone. She was a printmaker as well as a painter, using innovative techniques in her prints, such as printing from broken plates and creating three-dimensional prints. She was honored by Rutgers University with a retrospective of her work on her ninetieth birthday. Citron continued working until her death at age 95.
If you’re interested in seeing more of Citron’s art, The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia in Athens, has some of her work as do both the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Occasionally, Citron’s work is up for sale. In 2014, the original drawing for “Horse Swapping Day” was auctioned and sold for $112. If only I’d been more observant.