The Marshall Post Office is located in southwestern Minnesota, in the seat of Lyon County. The Art Moderne structure, designed by the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury in 1936, is exemplary of the standardized plans of New Deal–era post office buildings, which also featured artworks, typically murals. Marshall Post Office’s 1938 mural by Henry Holstrom is representative of the regionalism preferred by the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts.
Located one block east of the central business district, the Post Office features a slightly fluted limestone facade framing the front steps and front door. Near the entry, two symmetrically mullioned windows are set into this scalloped limestone facade. Continuing this pattern, two additional windows are placed toward the corners in the brick portion of the main facade—offering a sense of unified fenestration within two contrasting materials.
Many of the 1,100 new post offices built as part of the New Deal were small, “Class C and D” buildings, a classification based on construction costs. These were one-story rectangular buildings with Georgian Revival, Colonial Revival, or, like the Marshall Post Office, Art Moderne architectural details. The Treasury Department set aside approximately one percent of construction costs for artwork, to be managed through its Section of Painting and Sculpture, later the Section of Fine Arts. Murals, typically measuring six by twelve feet, were installed directly above the postmaster's door (to the right or left of the main entry) in the public lobby. By being placed in prominent community buildings, post office murals fulfilled the Section of Fine Arts’ goal of making art accessible to the American public.
The Marshall Post Office mural, Pioneers Arriving in Marshall by Wagon Trains, is the work of Henry Holstrom (1890–1981), a Swedish immigrant who studied at the Minneapolis School of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. Holstrom’s work is a good example of the Section of Fine Arts’ preference for regionalism, with a locally specific theme of the frontier. The mural features a centrally located pioneer wagon with oxen, and a patriarchal figure striding directly forward, with secondary figures and another wagon following behind. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the landscape, where gently rolling hills recede into the distance. Unlike the Works Progress Administration, which had eligibility requirements, the Section of Fine Arts awarded contracts through anonymously submitted designs. Twenty-six buildings throughout Minnesota received artwork through this program.
Ahlgren, Carol, “Nebraska Post Offices which contain Section Artwork (1938-1942),” Nebraska. National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, 1991. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Henry Holstrom: An Inventory of His Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, Manuscripts Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Marling, Karal Ann. Wall-to-Wall America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.
Park, Marlene, and Gerald Markowitz. Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984.