HELP SAVE THE BRONX POST OFFICES MURALS OF BEN SHAHN!

This is a plea from a wonderful and talented artist, Sylvia Benitez. Sylvia is the president and founder of the Gentileschi Aegis Gallery Association which is located in San Antonio, Texas, also known as, GAGA, a network that helps to provide exhibition spaces and increased exposure for women artists in Texas. I received this email from her and wanted to pass it along to all of you following this blog regarding the art of American artist, Ben Shahn.  This is an effort to save a public art project which consists of a series of murals created by  artist Benjamin Shahn for the Bronx, New York, Post Office.

Please read on and BE ACTIVE by passing this post along and WRITE to Robert Tierney of the New York Landmarks Commission  , to save these beautiful murals! The Benjamin Shahn murals are a piece of art history which was created for the benefit and artistic enrichment of all and they should be preserved for future generations. Your voice is needed in this effort so please read on to learn more about this worthy cause!

My dear loyal GAGA readers,  

I just received the following information from Susan Chevlowe
regarding the Ben Shahn‘s murals in the Bronx Post Office- I do not usually act so swiftly, however..
The Shahn’s have in an odd way been with and significant to me for a long time. It was Ben Shahn’s poster that graced my college dorm room (it was the first thing I bought for my room my freshman year. This was before I was an artist and before I knew anything about art.)
I later learned about this important American artist in my art history classes-
In my 30’s, I met Ben Shahn’s son, Jonathan, a wonderful artist himself. I was visiting a friend who also lived Roosevelt NJ, a very special little hamlet. For me, a struggling artist, meeting the son of one of my art heroes was a significant and curious life journey marker.
Ben Shahn is an American treasure.
To me these murals are as significant as T. Hart Benton’s. Personally, I think all WPA murals merit protection, and should be cataloged, and validated- But, that is another cause to champion on a different day.
This call has my support- and I will help how I can. Hence this special GAGA mailing.
 
I urge you to also pick up this message and forward to as many of your people to help protect this treasure.
 

 

Here is a link to the New York Landmarks Conservancy‘s web page, this causes main advocate. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-New-York-Landmarks-Conservancy/134307742932 – They are posting updates about what’s going on.

  

 

Sincerely

Sylvia Benitez, President and Founder / GAGA

Dear friends and colleagues:

There is imminent danger to Ben Shahn’s murals from the sale of the Bronx Post Office on the Grand Concourse.  See link to article in the Daily News today: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/push-save-iconic-murals-bronx-general-post-office-sale-inevitable-article-1.1302497?localLinksEnabled=false#.UVh-FmfM-4w.gmail

As you will read in the article  you will see that only the exterior of the building is landmarked. There is a movement under way to get the murals landmarked as well.  This effort needs our help.  The leaders of the effort are mentioned in the article, and include Rep. Jose Serrano of the Bronx, Jonathan Shahn (a sculptor and son of the artist) and Peg Breen, President of the NY Landmarks Conservancy.

 The situation is urgent, so even short emails from will have an impact!

Attached are:

1. Letter explaining that the Bronx Post Office Building (which is landmarked) will be sold.

The Shahn murals within the building need landmark designation in order to protect their future.

Emails and letters can be sent to Robert Tierney, Director of the NY Landmarks Commission:: rtierney@lpc.nyc.gov

2. Factual Information on Shahn’s murals and their importance.

The most important thing to do immediately is to write or email Robert Tierney. Even a single paragraph can go a long way in the effort to save these historically significant works of art by one of this country’s greatest artists!

 

3. Letter of support from Congressman Jose Serrano of the Bronx.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this urgent matter.

The most important thing to do immediately is

to write or email Robert Tierney
Even a single paragraph can go a long way in the effort to save these historically significant works of art by one of this country’s greatest artists!
THANK YOU
Ben Shahn’s Bronx Post Office Mural: Factual PointsCompiled by Laura Katzman and Jonathan Shahn Historic: Ben Shahn’s Bronx Post Office murals exemplify the Great Depression-era New Deal government- sponsored art projects, which gave American artists opportunities to maintain their livelihoods while putting their art at the service of social uplift and social reform. These projects speak to the values of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration that sought to utilize public art to celebrate America’s rural heartland and promote its industrial ingenuity.Educational: The Resources of America murals reflect a central theme of this era-the nobility of the American worker. The murals synthesize scenes that Shahn witnessed in his travels around the country-rural labor in the cotton fields and work in textile factories and steel mills. In their day, the murals would have brought to light images of the American Midwest and South that many residents of the Bronx had never seen. The murals therefore signify a far-reaching pedagogic vision as well as the educational possibilities of federal support for the arts.Artistic: The Resources of America exemplifies the successful integration of art and architecture in a public building. It is equally a great example of “buon fresco,” a mural technique from the Renaissance revived by Mexican muralists like Diego Rivera with whom Shahn and others studied. Shahn was at the forefront of this revival in America; he was also one of the leading socially-engaged artists of his generation. Among the nation’s distinguished muralists, Shahn won three mural commissions from the most prestigious federal agency to hold competitions, the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture. These include The Resources of AmericaThe Meaning of Social Security in the Health and Human Services Building in Washington, D.C., and The Four Freedomsin the Woodhaven Branch Post-Office in Jamaica, Queens. From the Farm Security Administration, he received a commission for the Jersey Homesteads mural, installed in the former community center of Roosevelt, New Jersey.Shahn’s artwork (as a painter, graphic artist, and photographer) is well-represented in major museums across the United States, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and San Francisco’s De Young Museum. As early as 1947, Shahn was the youngest living artist to have received a retrospective at MoMA.

Regional: While Ben Shahn was nationally and internationally recognized in his day and for subsequent decades, New York was central to his personal and professional identity, and to his formation and success as an artist. Shahn was raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, developed artistically in Greenwich Village, and was educated at City College, New York University, the National Academy of Design, and the Arts Students League. He assisted Diego Rivera on the ill-fated Rockefeller mural, and won commissions for never-executed public projects at Riker’s Island Penitentiary and Central Park Casino. Shahn’s work appeared in New York-based magazines such as The Nation,The New Republic, and Harper’s. His art was represented by influential New York galleries, including the Downtown Gallery and Kennedy Galleries. Even as a resident of Roosevelt, New Jersey for 30 years, Ben Shahn remained a devoted New Yorker his entire life.

 Dear colleagues;                                                                                                           March 27, 2013We are writing to you because of your expertise in the field of public art. Many of you know that the Bronx General Post Office on the Grand Concourse includes significant New Deal murals by Ben Shahn (with Bernarda Bryson Shahn). Commissioned by the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture in 1939, these murals, entitled The Resources of America, have been an integral part of the Bronx Post Office and its local community from its inception. You may also may be aware that the Bronx Post Office building is scheduled to be sold. Because the interior of the building lacks the landmark designation that the exterior possesses, the Shahn murals face possible damage and/or destruction. We are therefore seeking your support to ensure the future existence and preservation of these historic murals.Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, has been working with Congressman José E. Serrano of the Bronx to ensure the preservation of this important building and its artwork(see Serrano’s letter attached). Given the urgency of the situation, we are now asking Robert Tierney, Chair of the New York City Landmarks Commission, to landmark the lobby of the Post Office, including the murals.Would you please consider writing a cogent letter or email to Mr. Tierney, stressing the significance of the murals and asking him to landmark the lobby with its murals as an interior landmark? We offer in a separate attached document some factual points, with which most of you are already familiar. In your letters, feel free to draw on any of these points and/or write whatever you think would be most useful to the campaign to save the murals. It can be as simple as “please landmark the lobby and the important Shahn murals of the Bronx Post Office.” Any message should be sent as soon as possible.Letters can be addressed to:Robert Tierney, Chair

NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

1 Centre Street, 9th floor

New York, New York 10007

Emails can be sent to Mr. Tierney at: rtierney@lpc.nyc.gov and copied to Peg Breen, President, The New York Landmarks Conservancy at: pegbreen@nylandmarks.org

We thank you in advance for taking time out of your busy schedules to support this important cause. Your expertise and involvement would be deeply appreciated.

Sincerely yours,

Jonathan Shahn, Instructor of Sculpture

The Arts Students League of New York

jonathanshahn@gmail.com

Laura Katzman, Associate Professor of Art History

James Madison University

katzmalr@jmu.edu

 

Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the Fifteenth District of New York

PRESS RELEASE

 

For Immediate Release

March 18, 2013

CONTACT:    Philip Schmidt, (202) 225-4361

Serrano Calls on Postmaster to Suspend Bronx Post Office Sale

The Bronx, NY – March 18, 2013 – Congressman José E. Serrano recently sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe asking him to suspend the plan to sell the historic Bronx General Post Office. Congressman Serrano asked that the Postmaster General restart the public consultation process so that the community’s wishes are taken into account, provide a detailed plan so that the historically significant elements of the building can be preserved, and present a strategy so that mail service is unaffected.  The text of the letter is below.

***

March 15, 2013

Mr. Patrick Donahoe

Postmaster General

475 L’Enfant Plaza SW

Washington, D.C. 20260

Dear Postmaster General Donahoe:

I write to urge the immediate suspension of the Postal Service’s announced intent to sell the historic Bronx General Post Office (GPO) building located at 588 Grand Concourse in the Bronx.  The Postal Service has not adequately considered public input, has not detailed a sufficient process to preserve this historic landmark, and has no specific plans to maintain service in the community.

As you know, the Bronx GPO has been a landmark in our community since its completion in 1937. Over the years it has been a Post Office, a processing facility, and community meeting place.  Since the announcement of the Postal Service’s intent to sell the Bronx GPO, I have heard numerous complaints about various aspects of the proposed sale, all of which I believe indicate that the current process is fatally flawed.   I have outlined at least three objections that I have heard from members of the Bronx community:

 

  • Lack of Community Input: There appear to be numerous deficiencies with the Postal Service’s process for announcing and soliciting community input about the proposed sale of the Bronx GPO.  Relevant stakeholders were provided with little to no notice about a public meeting, thus giving them inadequate opportunity to provide input.  Moreover, the meeting took place on Wednesday, February 6, at 10:00 am, which meant that many interested parties were unable to attend. Lastly, the notice of the 30 day comment period was only provided to those individuals attending the meeting- thus foreclosing another avenue for the public to provide their views on this proposed sale.

 

  • Historic Value:  The Bronx GPO is on the historic building in the Bronx, and is both a City Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.  However, neither designation currently protects the lobby area, where a series of artistically significant murals, collectively entitled Resources in America, are located.  Moreover, there has been no indication that the Postal Service intends to follow the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).  I believe the current proposal does not provide sufficient protection to these historic artworks by Ben Shahn, and I am concerned that the public could lose access to these works or worse still a future owner could damage or destroy these valuable murals without a more rigorous review process.

 

  • Service Maintenance:  While there is apparently a comprehensive plan in place to sell the Bronx GPO, there is little to no plan in place to replace the services currently provided by the location.  Other than a vague promise that there will be a new postal location opened in the neighborhood, there does not appear to have been any steps taken to open that new location.  Moreover, there appears to have been no discussion with the community of their needs in choosing a new location. Lastly, almost no consideration has been given to maintaining the level of service in thecurrent location, the Bronx General Post Office.

I believe that these concerns indicate serious problems involved in the current process being used to consider the sale of the Bronx GPO.  I hope that you will take these concerns seriously, and rethink your strategy.  Rather than moving forward with a fatally flawed sales process, the Postal Service should take the time to truly solicit the advice of the Bronx community, to fully comply with its obligations under Section 106  of the NHPA, and to ensure that no harm is done to this historically significant property in any proposal.  If, after a true consultative process, the Postal Service still decides to put the building up for sale, then there must be a serious proposal to ensure that the historic murals in the building are preserved, and that service in the neighborhood does not suffer.

I can assure you that should the decision be made to proceed with the sale without adequate public input and consideration of the above concerns, I will continue to oppose this process.  Thank you for your consideration of these issues, and I look forward to the Postal Service addressing these concerns by providing a truly participatory process surrounding the future of the historic Bronx GPO.

Sincerely,

José E. Serrano

Member of Congress

###

Congressman José E. Serrano has represented The Bronx in Congress since 1990.

                                                                                                     

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2 thoughts on “HELP SAVE THE BRONX POST OFFICES MURALS OF BEN SHAHN!

  1. I have written to both suggested parties to preserve this important piece of American History. If you know anything about Diego Rivera and/or Shahn, you know they were social activists and kindred spirits. Their remarkable inspirational work pioneered the world of art through the great depression when the middle class disappeared in this country (much like what is occurring today.) These artists were chastised, often their great masterpieces destroyed because of their impressions of injustice, not always being politically correct. Please take a moment out of your busy day to do what is right and just. In the event you do not know or are unaware of these historical artists I have cut and paste info with a link below:

    The Mural is inspired by the Walt Whitman poem “I Hear America Singing,” the Shahns’ work fills the entire ground floor lobby. Verses from the poem as well as Walt Whitman himself are shown with the poet speaking to a crowd of people. The lines, which appear as if written on chalk board, are quoted below. They were not, however, the lines Shahn had originally chosen for the mural. The original quotation was found to be controversial when the drawings were placed on view at the post office in December of 1938. It read “…to recast poems, churches, art (Recast maybe to discard them, end them) maybe their work is done – who knows…” was objected to and later vehemently denounced by a Jesuit professor at Fordham University. Shahn agreed to change the quotation to avoid drawing negative attention to the public arts programs and, some suggest, to avoid the possible destruction of his work, a fate suffered by Diego Rivera’s Rockefeller Center murals. (Shahn and his wife met while he was assisting Rivera on the Rockefeller Center project.)

    The lines from Whitman
    used in the work are:
    For we support all
    Fuse All
    After the rest is done
    and gone we remain
    There is no final
    reliance but upon us
    Democracy rests finally
    upon us
    (I my brethren begin it)
    and our visions sweep
    through eternity.
    http://www.lehman.edu/vpadvance/artgallery/publicart/sites/postoffice.html

    • Thank you so much for your passionate and detailed post. I love the work of Diego Rivera and Ben Shahn! Unfortunately mural work is always at risk to be destroyed as time goes on and properties change ownership or are updated and remodeled. Most often contractors have no idea about art and nor do they care for its preservation, often they view art or murals as an obstacle only to be torn down, after all building and construction is their business not mural conservation. History is involved with all paintings created so I am very grateful you have posted this historical information regarding this mural, Thank you so much! My sincere thanks goes to Sylvia Benitez of the GAGA art association for bring this to my immediate attention. Hopefully nation wide attention to this matter will help save this precious mural.
      kind regards,
      vanessa

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