The Transylvania County Library is the home of an interesting work of art with a storied past. The mural “Good News” hangs in the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room (on the second floor of the Library), where archival conditions help maintain its preservation. This glazed tempera paint mural is reminiscent of a fresco and depicts a rural mail delivery. The scene shows three farmers discussing the sale of a calf, a postman distributing letters, and a child chasing a duck.
This piece was part of a New Deal program that operated from 1934-1943. The program fell under the purview of the United States Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture, which was later renamed the Section of Fine Arts. During this span of time, “The Section,” as it was commonly called, commissioned murals and sculptures for federal buildings. This initiative placed 1,400 murals in post offices throughout the country. Post offices specifically were chosen, because it was thought that they were the federal buildings that would be most frequented by everyday citizens, and the purpose was to share fine art with everyone.
The program that created “Good News” was not the Works Progress Administration arts program, as previously believed. There were several differences between these programs, but one of the biggest differences was that Section artists were required to create realistic (not impressionistic or abstract) works, and that the themes of the artworks were limited to local history, agrarian life, industry, and abundance. These themes were meant to instill hope and pride in a population struggling through economic hardship.
The murals proved to be more controversial than expected, resulting in many of them later being removed, defaced, or painted over. Controversial topics ranged from concerns that the worker imagery was promoting communism to the demeaning depictions of enslaved African Americans and native peoples to stereotypical depictions of rural residents that didn’t acknowledge their individual community identities. This means that fewer of these murals exist today, making those that have been preserved more rare, though not necessarily well-loved.
“Good News” by Pietro Lazzari, was commissioned on January 2, 1941 and completed on April 10, 1941. It was installed in the “new post office” located at 101 South Broad Street on October 17, 1941. When the building was later converted into the Transylvania County Library in the early 1970s, the painting remained as part of the archival collection and is now under the stewardship of the Library at its current location at 212 South Gaston Street.
Pietro Lazzari, a painter, sculptor, and muralist, was born in Rome Italy, May 15, 1898. At the age of thirteen he was apprenticed to Calcagnadoro to learn the art of fresco. He received his art education in Italy, which was interrupted by serving in the first World War. Later he traveled to France, doing freelance work and studying at the Beaux Arts institute in Paris. In 1926 he came to New York and exhibited there. In 1929 he became a naturalized citizen. He exhibited numerous times in New York City, Florida, and Connecticut.
In 1936 Lazzari began his first commission as a New Deal artist. He created similar murals for Sanford, NC and Jasper, FL as well. He was a resident of Washington, D.C. at the time that “Good News” was created. Lazzari achieved some notoriety during his career and was included in the “Who’s Who in American Art” 1967 and 1973 editions.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.