By Elizabeth Kendall, Parma Conservation, Ltd.
New Deal Mural Brought Back to Public after 40 Years
For 40 years a beautiful mural of Boston Harbor lay rolled up in a storage facility where it suffered water damage, rodent infestation, and neglect. The 1940 mural by Stephen Etnier had been painted for the Everett Branch Post Office in Boston as part of the Treasury Section of Fine Art project under FDRs New Deal program. The postal facility was sold in the 1970's and at that time the mural was removed from the wall, put in storage, and forgotten.
Fortunately, in 2005, the Preservation Officer for the Postal Service, Dallan Wordekemper, was informed about then existence of the mural and, with the help of Parma Conservation, was determined to give the mural back to the public. Parma collected the mural from the storage facility that same year and subsequently spent months meticulously cleaning the mural and repairing all damage. The mural was brought back to its original state, but the dilemma still remained of where it would find a new home. Its original location no longer existed. It was a large mural (12 x 12), and it was also an unusual shape that of an inverted U, as it originally surrounded the postmaster door. The mural, called Mail for New England depicts the Back Bay of Boston Harbor a scene that would have made no sense in any other city.
Due to the foresight of the Postal Service in knowing the historical value of the mural it did, in fact, find a new home. A new postal facility was being created as the storefront to a new condominium development in downtown Boston. Architects, Engineers, Preservationists, and Parma Conservation worked with the developer in order to create a specific and prominent space for the mural in the new postal facility. Consequently, an entire wall, including a replica of the old postmaster’s door, was dedicated to the mural and implemented in the project.
In September 2009, Parma Conservation installed the mural in the new facility. Not only was the mural given back to the public for whom it was created but it was put back in its historical context: in Boston, in a post office, and above the Postmasters door.
Parma Conservation has conserved almost 200 (out of a remaining 1100) New Deal post office murals across the country, and has helped save, conserve, and rededicate 20 post office murals - which were thought to be lost or destroyed.