The Longview Post Office and Its New Deal Mural

Located 125 miles east of Dallas, the city of Longview is known for its rolling hills and scenic areas. The town was incorporated in 1871, after Ossamus Hitch Methvin Sr. sold one hundred acres of land to the Southern Pacific Railroad for the establishment of a new settlement. Railroad managers apparently named the town after the striking "long view" from Methvin’s home.

During its early years, Longview had a reputation for being a rough railroad town where violent disturbances were common. Yet, the railroad brought prosperity too. Following a disastrous fire in 1877 that destroyed many of the city’s wooden buildings, local citizens backed by the railroad built new brick and stone structures, including churches, schools, mills, and an opera house.

The Longview Post Office was constructed with support from the Treasury Department during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Architect Louis A. Simon and engineer Neal Melick oversaw the construction, and the building opened in 1939 at 201 E Methvin Street.

In the lobby of the Longview Post Office hangs a massive oil on canvas mural titled "Rural East Texas," which was painted by Thomas M. Stell Jr. in 1942. The mural celebrates the history of farming in East Texas and demonstrates how mechanization changed the agricultural industry.

Born in Cuero, Texas, in 1898, Thomas M. Stell Jr. displayed artistic talent at a young age. He trained as a draftsmen in Dallas, New York, and Chicago before attending the Rice Institute. In 1923, he moved to New York to study at the Arts Students League, training under the muralist Augustus Vincent Tack. In 1928, Stell returned to Dallas to teach at the Dallas Art Institute. He then joined the Dallas Nine, a group of painters, print makers, and sculptors living and teaching in Dallas in the 1930s.

As an artist and teacher, Stell mirrored the work of early Italian and Flemish painters, becoming a master portraitist who strove to connect his work with the viewing public. Stell's work includes "Portrait of Janet Kendall" (1934), "Portrait of Dale Heard" (1935), and "Portrait of Wanda Ford" (1943).

The Works Progress Administration hired Stell to be the state director of the American Index of Design in 1938. Four years later, he moved to San Antonio to teach at Trinity University. During this period, Stell also painted the "Rural East Texas" mural for the Longview Post Office. Later, in 1945, he moved to Austin to teach and study drawing at the University of Texas, Austin, where he also entered graduate school. Thomas M. Stell Jr. returned to Dallas in the 1950s, where he remained an artist and teacher until his death in 1981.