“Threshing in Kansas,” was painted by Lumen Martin Winter on the east wall of the Hutchinson Post Office, located at 128 E 1st Avenue. It is an egg tempera and oil mural painted directly onto the plaster wall. It measures 18 feet by 8.5 feet. Winter received the contract for the mural on August 4, 1941, and the mural was completed on July 7, 1942. The 32-year-old Winter received $2800 for the commission.
Section artworks were site-specific murals and sculptures for newly constructed federal buildings and post offices. Unlike the other New Deal art programs, the Section awarded commissions through competitions and paid artists a lump sum for their work.
Competitions were set up so that the artists submitted proposals without their names identifying their submission. In addition the competitions were open to all artists, regardless of economic status. In total, the Section commissioned over 1300 murals and 300 sculptures.
The piece is referred to on the historic application as “Threshing in Kansas,” but references are made to it actually being called “Pioneer Threshing in Kansas, 1870.” I’m unclear if the name was changed at some point, or if the application is in error. I have used the less formal here, but am not sure that is correct.
“Threshing in Kansas” is the only mural funded through the Section program in Kansas to be painted directly onto the plaster wall; all of the other murals are painted on canvas and attached to the wall. It is a busy scene and the farming scenes are representative of the realism style generally funded by the Section program.
As in most places, in Hutchinson a local competition was held to choose the artwork. In summer, 1941, fifty artists submitted seventy-six designs. The local selection committee was composed of J .P. Harris, the editor and publisher of the Hutchinson News-Herald and chairman of the committee; Mrs. Henry Humphrey; Barbara Busch, an art instructor; Postmaster Ralph Russell; and Otho McCracken. They chose six designs, which were then sent to Washington for the Section’s final review.
Winter was in the unusual position of interacting extensively with the public during the mural process, since he was actually in the post office painting the mural. Winter began to paint the mural after the United States had entered World War II. Some public resentment was expressed at the cost of the mural because this was a time of austerity. At one point the Hutchinson News Herald declared that due to the volume of mail about the mural, they would accept no more letters after a certain date.
Committee chairman Harris published Winter’s doodles and sketches for the mural in the Hutchinson News-Herald. It was unusual for the public to see the doodling and sketching that preceded the finished product, but this action allowed the public an opportunity to learn more about the artistic process.
According to the application for National Register of Historic Places, Winter explained his technique in the July 2, 1942, edition of the Hutchinson News-Herald with the following: A good, realistic mural design is one which covers the entire wall area in an interesting manner so that almost every square foot has something to tell the observer. A surface pattern must be retained to avoid the feeling that the wall has been punched full of big, uninteresting, empty holes.
I have not found a mention of the mural in the July 2, 1942, edition of the paper, but did find this in the July 12 edition. The quote is not the same, but I assume this is what they referenced. It’s a pity they didn’t quote it accurately since that’s now part of the permanent record of this artwork. You can see the newspaper article below.
The Hutchinson commission was his first mural, according to the application, but there is conflicting information about that. Winter is also responsible for the Section artwork in the Fremont, Michigan, and Wellston, Missouri, post offices.
Winter spent some of his childhood in Belpre and Larned, Kansas. After attending high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he became a cartoonist for a local paper. He graduated from the Cleveland School of Art in 1929, and pursued a career in book illustration.
Winter gained a reputation as a painter and sculptor. He was selected to complete the murals that John Steuart Curry had begun in the 1930s for the Kansas State Capitol in the late 1970s. By 1977, The Hutchinson News referred to him as a world-famous muralist and sculptor. He was working on the centerpiece sculpture for the new Kansas Museum of History when he died.
Information gathered from the following:
The application for National Register of Historic Places – from the State Historical Society in February 1989. http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/89001644.pdf
Info on Section Artwork: http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/101818
Details on other Section artwork in Kansas: http://www.kansassampler.org/8wonders/artresults.php?id=98
Thank you to the Hutchinson News for their generous permission to use historic articles.