New Mexico New Deal Sites November 2018 - Photo #59 - Truth or Consequences Post Office

Photo: 9 November 2018
The Indian Bear Dance mural by Boris Deutsch (1895-1978) in the Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, Post Office. The mural was painted and installed in June 1940 under the US Treasury Section of Fine Arts[1] (a.k.a. Painting and Sculpture Section).

"[The] mural, measuring 5'×12' and executed in oil on canvas, depicts a group of Native Americans of no specific tribe, some masked and costumed, observing a "Bear Dance." Installed several months after the post office ... was completed, the mural design was a prize winner in a 48 state competition. The winning designs, to be placed in one post office in each of the then 48 states, were selected from 1,475 anonymously submitted submitted sketches. The competition was the largest ever held in the country, and made a distinct contribution to American mural art.

"Deutsch's mural mural was featured along with the other winning entries in the December 4, 1939, issue of LIFE Magazine. The color studies of Deutsch's mural are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution. They reveal that originally the mural depicted a Native American chief dancing out of the path of an oncoming Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Super Chief locomotive. For some unknown reason Deutsch redesigned the mural to show a mountain instead of a locomotive. Another change was, a man riding a horse became a masked dancer. The balance of the final work is essentially the same as the studies.

"The mural is very expressive and stylized; the figures have a peculiar moody, surrealistic appearance, with large and small figures interspersed without regard to spacial positions. The mural was evidently created by Deutsch not so much as an authentic documentation of any specific Native American dance or ceremony, rather as a representation of the color, spirit, and drama of Southwestern Native American rituals in general. It's obvious that Deutsch respected Native American cultures; his mural in T or C can be viewed as precedent for a larger mural he painted several years later for teh interior lobby of the Los Angeles Terminal Annex Post Office, with the theme of recognizing cultural contributions of indigenous peoples of the Americas.

"Deutsch was born in Lithuania, then a part of Russia. After being conscripted into the Russian army he deserted and fled the country. He studied art briefly in Latvia and in various Berlin academies before immigrating to Seattle in 1916 and becoming a United States citizen. Three years later he moved to Los Angeles where he became a successful commercial artist and worked for Paramount Pictures in the special effects department. He also taught advanced painting. In the early years of the Depression he worked for the Federal Resettlement Project, traveling to several states to visually document workers being resettled on farms. He painted two other WPA post office murals: "Grape Pickers" in Reedley, California, in 1941 and the mural of the Los Angeles Terminal Exchange Post Office. ... The building occupied by the Truth or Consequences downtown post office was accepted to the national register of Historic Places in 1989, partly due to Deutsch's mural and its association with the federal government's New Deal arts program."[2]

"The USPS mural in TorC, NM, was awarded (in 1940) the best New Deal post office mural in the state [although it is] not a typical NM or post office mural."[3]

  1. Post Office Mural – Truth or Consequences NM, Living New Deal, accessed 24 November 2018.
  2. Charles Bennett, Boris Deutsch's WPA Mural in Truth or Consequences Post Offices, Sierra County Artists Directory, Spring 2006.
  3. Kathryn Flynn, private correspondence, 26 November 2018.
  4. Betty Hoag, New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project, Oral History Interview with Boris Deutsch, Archives of American Art (1964), 41 pages.