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Morgan Park Post Office Painting Has Greeted Customers in Line for 77 Years

By Howard Ludwig | December 16, 2014 5:48am
 An oil-on-canvas painting titled "Father Marquette — 1674" hangs in the lobby of the Morgan Park Post Office at 1805 W. Monterey Ave. Little is known about the painting, according to local historians. But an online reference of similar artwork commissioned by the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, said the painting is the work of artist J. Theodore Johnson.
Morgan Park Post Office Painting
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MORGAN PARK — Think you've been in line at the Morgan Park Post Office for a long time this holiday season? Well there are three guys who've been in the lobby at 1805 W. Monterey Ave. since 1937.

The three men are the subjects of J. Theodore Johnson's oil-on-canvas painting titled “Father Marquette — 1674," according to information unearthed by local historian Margaret Kapustiak of Beverly's Ridge Historical Society.

The large, rectangular painting hangs on the western wall of the post office. It depicts a priest offering blankets to a pair of indigenous men — one stands beside him wearing face paint. The other smokes a peace pipe.

Howard Ludwig does a little digging into the portrait's history:

Little is known about the painting itself, according to Linda Lamberty, who also works with the historical society.

It appears to depict Father Jacques Marquette, who was born in Laon, France, on June 1, 1637. He became a Jesuit missionary at age 17 and founded missions in present-day Michigan. Marquette later joined explorer Louis Joliet on an expedition to discover and map the Mississippi River, according to his online biography.

According the the website WPAmurals.com, the painting was not commissioned by the Works Progress Administration or WPA. Rather, it was funded by the Section of Fine Arts under the Treasury Department.

This was one of three visual arts programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury during the Great Depression. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt's intention to embellish new federal buildings with murals and sculpture.

At a cost of $2.5 million, the effort sponsored more than 1,100 murals and 300 sculptures. Most were slated for government buildings in Washington, D.C. Though a few were intended to adorn post offices and courthouses elsewhere throughout the country.

Johnson was born in Oregon, Ill., in 1902. His painting "Chicago Interior" is kept at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work in Morgan Park, Johnson also painted four oil paintings for the post office in suburban Oak Park. Johnson died in Sunnyvale, Calif., in 1963.

As the line for the post office stretched out the door on Monday, several patrons were seen staring up at the painting. Others studied their cell phones or closely monitored the progress of cashiers.

One post office employee had a theory as to the origin of the often looked-upon painting.

"It came with the building, I guess," he said.

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