Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

September 12, 2013

Another View

The Mural at the Post Office

Charlotte Shivvers
Journal-Express

Knoxville — Have you been to the Knoxville Post Office recently?  

If you stand in line there to mail a package and look up to the wall on your left, what do you see?  I stood and looked recently, and as if for the first time realized, “This is a mural.  It’s powerful.  I wonder what it’s about?”

So I asked.  The information sheet the postal clerk gave me had been copied too many times to be readable.  That whetted my curiosity.  He suggested the library.  I went there, inquired, and within one day they called to tell me they had found the mural book.

As surprising as discovering our post office mural, was reading about it in this 70-page collection called “New Deal Projects in Iowa” by Lea Rosson DeLong and Gregg R. Narber.  I had known about art projects from the New Deal era, but here in Knoxville, Iowa?  Yes!  Our mural is one of over 50 in the state – more proportionally that almost any other state.  

Back to our Post Office art center.  Look carefully and you can see that artist Marvin Beerbohm is portraying people in a time of great excitement.  It must be night.  There are torches.  The horses are ready, straining to move forward.  Plough and buggy are there.  Mother and child look on anxiously.  If only the title was in place, the pieces in our mental puzzle might fall in place, too.  The mural book discloses this is “Pioneer Group at the Red Rock Line – 1845.”

For all the local historic effort, particularly from Will and Susan Prather and their presentations about The Red Rock Line, we should start to remember that a “deal” was made with the native people in 1842 agreeing that native people could stay in place until 1845, but at midnight on Oct. 11, 1845, white people would be allowed to cross the “Red Rock Line” and move west.  That important Line, centered on the famous red rocks, went south to the Missouri border and further north in what is now Iowa, running close to a huge sycamore called “peace tree” – perhaps for the peace its shelter gave through centuries of meetings there among the various Indian nations.  

So much history at our USPO, hidden in plain sight.   It becomes even more interesting when you read more description:  a mural for the Des Moines Public Library (now Headquarters for the World Prize) includes another view of this historic date.  Not the brave white people moving forward, but the brave native people being pushed away.  An Indian warrior and his pregnant squaw are forced away at gunpoint, leaving their sacred burial grounds forever as their wick-i-up homes are burned behind them.

Whether a proud or shameful part of our past, the Red Rock Line is undoubtedly a significant part, part of who we are.   (If you’d like to see and know more, you might check out the Iowa State Savings Bank/Rural History Buffs tour, 9/18/13 – call Lillie Brandon 641 820-0177.)

The New Deal arts program seemed to accomplish its two-fold mission to provide work for desperate artists and to bring art to the public.  A political move like the mural project seems unbelievable from the perspective of our current polarized government that can’t even cut back on petroleum subsidies while it fights over food stamps.  Perhaps more time with the mural could give us better understanding – perhaps even more patience – through our ongoing human, political struggles.