Located along the Trinity River, Liberty, Texas, is one of the oldest towns in the Lone Star State. Initially settled by Anglo-American squatters in 1818, the town became a key trading center by the time of the Texas Revolution. In 1837, local leaders incorporated the site, and it became the seat of Liberty County.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Liberty served as an important shipping port for agricultural and timber products. Liberty's location, roughly forty miles from Trinity Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, made it an ideal spot for transporting goods throughout East Texas.
Despite the early prominence that Liberty enjoyed, the city’s population grew slowly. By 1900, only 865 residents lived at the site, while other cities in the region eclipsed it. When oil was discovered at the Batson-Old oilfield in neighboring Hardin County, however, Liberty began to grow more quickly. By 1940, the population had risen to 3,087 and new residents looked forward to a promising future.
As a result of the city’s growth, County Judge R.E. Biggs requested an $800,000 federal loan in 1934 so that Liberty County could construct a series of new federal buildings. By 1939, the landscape in the small Texas town had changed, as a new post office, city-hall building, high school gymnasium, and electrical power plant opened to the public.
To beautify Liberty’s new post office, federal official included it on a list of other sites that were being considered for an ongoing New Deal public works project administered by the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture (later known as The Section of Fine Arts). This program supported national artists who decorated more than 65 post offices in Texas with nearly 100 murals depicting scenes of local history, culture, and industry.
Artist Howard Fisher, a San Antonio native, was selected for the Liberty post office job. In fact, Fisher had previously been commissioned to paint a mural at the nearby Baytown post office, but that project had been canceled as a result of a federal accounting error. Now, Fisher received the opportunity to take one of his sketches, “The Story of the Big Fish,” and enlarge it for the walls of a new federal building.
Fisher completed his painting for the Liberty post office in 1939. “The Story of the Big Fish” features seven men and two small fishing vessels; the men in the foreground are engaged in discussion, while the others tie down sails and nets. The painting provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of Liberty's local fishing culture, and it helped to make the new post office building a welcoming and enjoyable site.
When a new Liberty post office building was constructed in recent times, Fisher’s mural was taken down and carefully transported to the site. It hangs there now a poignant symbol of the New Deal and its impact on East Texas.