Art History Alongside Mailboxes And Postage Stamps

*Note: This audio essay first aired on KRCC (Colorado Springs’ NPR affiliate, 91.5 FM) on March 11, 2021. The link to the program is here; the audio file and the text from the essay are below.

If you ever need stamps and have some time to spare, go to the Manitou Springs Post Office. As you wait in line, you’ll get the gallery treatment of a wall-to-wall work of art with what looks like petroglyphs telling  our region’s origin story.

The mural, titled, “Hunters, Red and White,” looks like it’s carved in rock, but the shades of brown and tan and green and red give away the painter’s touch. 

The work is by local artist Archie Musick. His mural at Manitou’s post office was a Section of Fine Arts Project which funded public art in Federal buildings – mostly post offices, but also, the Justice Department in Washington D.C.

In the summer of 1941, Musick learned the Project had put out a call for art in post offices. He submitted a design for a South Denver post office and didn’t get the gig. But later he learned the judges liked his work enough to award him the Manitou Springs post office commission.

After submitting a draft sketch, a Project judge suggested Musick expand on one small part of his draft that included Lt. Zebulon Pike’s initial encounter with Indigenous people. 

A few months later, in the summer of 1942, Musick painted his work straight onto the wall. Not on a canvas or in a studio — he worked on a ladder with egg tempura and colored pencils. 

Musick’s elevated artwork is Manitou’s version of the Sistine Chapel. Great art transcends museum walls. Sometimes it’s where you least expect it, like the post office, where you go for the stamps, but stick around for the inspiration. 

Until our next mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

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