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Vintage Phoenix Artifact: WPA Murals at Downtown Phoenix Post Office

Often mistaken for two of the many murals commissioned in the '30s by the WPA, the artworks at the downtown Phoenix post office (522 North Central Avenue) were in fact funded by the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture. Each of the murals was completed in 1938, two years after the PO first opened.

The murals along the north and south walls, Historical Development and The Progress of the Pioneer, are by Wisconsin painter LaVerne Nelson Black, a newspaper illustrator who vacationed in the Southwest, where he painted and sketched Native American subjects. In the '20s, Black moved to Taos, New Mexico, where he hoped the dry climate would mend his failing health.

His Phoenix Post Office mural depicts Arizona from its discovery by white settlers in the 19th century to the industrialization of the '20s and '30s. Black died only weeks after completing the second of the murals, possibly from lead poisoning from the paint he used in his work.

Painted in opaque watercolor are Oscar Berninghaus' Communication During the Period of Exploration and Pioneer Communication, another pair of murals completed in 1938. They hang in the west wing of the post office. Exploration depicts a deep valley across which European explorers attempt to communicate with Natives, while Pioneer flashes forward on a similar scene set before early storefronts and a rustic desert post office.

 
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