Rusk Post Office and Its New Deal Mural

The United States Post Office in Rusk, Texas, features a Bernard Baruch Zakheim mural titled "Agriculture and Industry at Rusk." Completed in 1939, Zakheim's powerful mural illustrates Rusk's rough agrarian and industrial history from multiple perspectives. In vivid colors, the artist captures how Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo American residents of the area viewed development and change over time.

Located in Cherokee County, Rusk has a long and complicated history. In the early nineteenth century, a band of Cherokees established a tribe in the region, which was then part of Mexico. However, in the 1830s, Anglo settlers expelled the Native American tribes from the area, including the Cherokee, Caddo, and Kickapoo. They then established the city of Rusk on April 11, 1846, and named it after one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, General Thomas Jefferson Rusk. Within a few years, residents of the city constructed a Presbyterian church, masonic lodge, and county courthouse. Rusk's first post office opened on March 8, 1847. The city’s population grew rapidly throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as immigrants steadily poured in from the gulf. The Great Depression slowed Rusk's development, but the town endured because of its position as a commercial center for the region's rich iron ore deposits, timber, and agricultural industries.

Bernard Baruch Zakheim's mural "Agriculture and Industry at Rusk," completed in San Francisco in 1939, honors the city’s residents and their complex relationship with the land. Born in Poland on April 4, 1898, Zakheim discovered a love for art in his early teens. He studied furniture design and upholstery and then won a scholarship to study drawing, painting, and sculpture at the Polish Academy of Fine Art. Zakheim immigrated to the United States, and lived in both New York City and Los Angeles, before settling down in San Francisco and finding work as an upholsterer. In the early 1930s, Zakheim traveled to Mexico City to study the art of mural frescoes with famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Upon his return to the Bay Area, Zakheim founded the San Francisco Artist and Writer's Union. Zakheim also won a local competition to fresco a mural at San Francisco's Jewish Community Center. He and other union members lobbied for a federally funded arts program, which the United States government eventually supported through the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture (later known as the Section of Fine Arts).

"Agriculture and Industry at Rusk" features multiple thematic elements including farming, land surveying, displacement of Native Americans, and Anglo American settlement and expansion. The mural contains three distinct scenes: the first displays a Native American man (possibly Cherokee), wrapped in linens, sitting quietly, as a white man (arms crossed) stares down at him. The next scene features a group of farmers, including one man testing pesticide spraying equipment on a tomato crop, another examining a leaf of lettuce through a magnifying glass, as well as one farmer receiving mail from a postman. The last scene features a group of land surveyors; some men dig, while others measure land, or take notes. The three scenes demonstrate how the agricultural industry in Rusk developed through forced relocation of Native Americans, land surveying, and technological advancements in farming and crop management. Though complex and intricate works of art, Zakheim's murals were often criticized for their Communist or Socialist elements. Yet, "Agriculture and Industry at Rusk," remains a vital piece of Great Depression art, reminding its viewers of East Texas' culturally diverse and complicated past.

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