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Friday, February 17, 2012

George Snow Hill's Mural, Pulpwood Logging, Milton Post Office

While cruising through the Old Post Office Antiques and Piano Cafe in Milton, I noticed a mural hanging above the postmaster's office.

Unfortunately, the light shining on the painting presented glare from most angles and the the artwork could use a little cleaning.  So, moving around, fixing the perspective up with Photoshop and sprucing it up a bit brings us this look.

It looked to me like it might be one of the WPA artist projects from the 1930s.  A little Googling turned up some information on both the painting and the artist.  The painting is titled, Loading Pulpwood.  The artist is George Snow Hill.  Dedicated on November 11, 1940, the painting was created as part of a series of post office murals created by the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts.

If you are interested in regional art of Florida created during the depression, there is a list of Post Office Art at this link.  A bit more clarification of WPA art, Treasury Department art and post office murals can be found at these three links.  I have now added a "Post Office Murals" tag to this blog.  A local "Beach Blogger" chronicles the recent history of the mural on this post.

Back to the artist: George Snow Hill.  There's no Wikipedia entry at this time so we are on our own!

George Snow Hill was born on November 13, 1898, in the small town of Munising, Michigan, located on the southern shore of Lake Superior.  He studied under Carl Tracy Hawley in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Syracuse.  While there, he met another of Hawley's students, Pauline Louise Knipp, a native of Urbana, Illinois.  Knipp graduated from Syracuse in January of 1923 and Hill graduated in June of the same year.

Upon graduation, Hill was awarded the Syracuse University's Augusta Hazard Painting Fellowship which allowed him to move to Paris and continue his painting there.  Knipp, meanwhile headed for New York City.  In August of 1925, Knipp decided to join Hill in Paris and they were married there three months later on November 16, 1925 in St. Luke's Chapel.

While in Paris, the Hills continued their work at a Montparnasse studio and exhibited there.  George Hill picked up a special mention at the Spring Salon des Artes Francais in 1925 for a painting titled Le Balcon.

Returning to the United States, the Hills were guests of professor Hawley as they exhibited some of their works at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts.  In April of 1930, the Hills were living at 317 East 51st Street in Manhattan.  In July of 1932, they again were exhibiting at the Syracuse MFA.

The July 14, 1932 Syracuse Herald described their contrasting styles this way:
The Hill art-work Is full of humor, life and color, but Mr. and Mrs. Hill are apparently divided in their methods. They never see pictures the same way. Mr. Hill is a painter.  Mrs. Hill is an etcher. Mr. Hill is interested in color, Mrs. Hill in line. 

In Mr. Hill's, "Flemish Landscape," a distinct feature is the sky with its rosy-tinted and cream-colored clouds.  In Mrs. Hill's "The Sunken Barge," the trees that her husband failed to see occupy the most outstanding portion of the image.
... A concreteness of imagery is apparent in Mr. Hill's paintings, while an exceptional application of color makes some of the pieces unforgettable.
Also in 1932, the couple moved to St. Petersburg, Florida where they remained.

Hill's use of color stands out in the Milton Post Office painting, even before my enhancement of it.  Hill's transformation into a muralist probably was motivated by the availability of the the Treasury program's money.  Besides the post office murals, he received a commission for a courthouse mural in 1934 that was halted in progress by a judge who objected to the skimpy bathing suits depicted.  Seven murals commissioned for the Tampa airport in 1939 probably represent the high point of his work.  They were restored in 1998 and hang today at Tampa International.

In spite of his promising start, Hill's work doesn't seem to have inspired much critical admiration beyond Syracuse.  As a muralist, he developed a style that included "cartoonish caricatures."  James Swope of James Swope Fine Arts Conservation of West Palm Beach who restored the Tampa airport murals commented on Hill's style in those paintings:
No question their value is as historic documents, not art ...
...  he doesn't caricature one type of person. Everybody comes off looking sort of bad in it.
As a result of this style, Hill was also subject to criticism of racist portrayals in some of his paintings.  The two African-Americans playing dice at the left side of the Milton mural, for instance, have been cited as an example of stereotypical racism. The most prominent example was an instance in St. Petersburg where:
... Joe Waller and some friends who invaded the City Hall on December 29, 1966, and tore down what he termed a "racist" murala George Snow Hill painting showing black musicians eating watermelons and entertaining whites on the beach. Bothwell goes on "it was a milestone in peaceful St. Petersburg's race relationsthis tearing down of a mural. For Waller, it would mean a three year jail sentence. He would serve half of it while in and out of jails on appeals that eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The incident was addressed thirty-three years later in a July 27, 1999 article in the St. Petersburg Times.  The article includes a quote from Hill as well as a lengthy focus on the black community's view of the painting.  It makes for interesting reading.


For more information on George Snow Hill, this difficult to read art auction catalog entry may help you out.  Hill died in St. Petersburg in February of 1969.

This article and this article in the Tampa Bay Times address saving more George Snow Hill murals.  The second article has a photo of the artist.

If you have an interest in Pauline Hill, there is an exhibit of her work scheduled for April 07, 2012 - June 03, 2012 at the Boone and George-Ann Knox Gallery II at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens Georgia.  The examples to be found at that link mirror the Hill's life from a view of "Sacre Coeur from Rue LaFitte" to a study of Florida Moonshining. 

The Syracuse Herald ran a photo of Pauline along with the story of the Hill's marriage in Paris on January 3 of 1926.  Pauline Hill died on April 2, 1990 in St. Petersburg.

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