Social Realism In Eutaw

Eutaw Section Mural

The artwork in the Eutaw, AL post office, “The Countryside,” was painted by Robert Gwathmey, a Southerner who was known as a member of the Social Realist movement, who painted Blacks in a dignified, modernist style (one of the first, and few Whites at the time to do so), and he painted those figures in bold color and pattern.  This work was completed in 1941 — in 1940, Gwathmey had decided to destroy most of his earlier work, and only a few pieces survived.

For 27 years, he was kept under surveillance by the FBI for his his Communist Party affiliations, his strong support for black culture and his outspoken, courageous stance against racial discrimination.”

However…the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance reports that this mural he did in Eutaw drew controversy during the years of the ‘Black Power’ movement “when young, black revolutionaries interpreted Gwathmey’s depiction of African Americans as subservient or demeaning and called for its removal.”

A NYT book review mentions:
Kammen tells the story of a mural Gwathmey painted in 1939-41 for the Post Office in Eutaw, Ala. Depicting blacks and whites hoeing corn, picking cotton and stacking lumber, it was installed over the objections of local white officials who would have preferred something commemorating the Confederacy. Years later, it was denounced by a black judge and a leader in the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as ”dehumanizing” and ”offensive” to African-Americans, although its focus was class as much as race: it shows blacks and whites laboring equally at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. A subsequent report on the mural, commissioned by the Postal Service from the Birmingham Museum of Art, recommended that the mural not be removed; ironically, the report identified the artist as ”a black” from Richmond.

Robert Gwathmey’s son, Charles, was an architect, and among his projects, he designed the renovation of FLW’s Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

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