Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Chief Tuscumbia Greets the Dickson Family"

Photos by Jimmy Emerson

No, the title of today's blog isn't the name of a new Disney comedy; it's the title of an acclaimed work of art by Jack McMillen, a mural covering the surface of one wall of the former lobby of a vacant US Post Office. Standing at the corner of Sixth and Dickson Streets in Tuscumbia, Alabama, the 1930s era post office in the small Colbert County town closed in 2004. At that time, a coalition of businessmen was rumored to be bidding on the structure with the intent of converting it to a Trail of Tears Museum; however, local businessman Harvey Robbins purchased the building the next year for $129,000.00. Now, Robbins is willing to sell the still vacant building to the city for the same amount, allowing Tuscumbia to place any extra funding toward the estimated $100,000.00 in renovations needed to bring the structure up to code.

No public mention has been made of the fate of the building's New Deal mural adorning the original lobby; however, while the artwork is widely assumed to have been produced by the Works Progress Administration, the post office mural was actually funded by the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture established in 1934. The United States Postal Service officially owns these one thousand plus murals; however, according to the TimesDaily, the Smithsonian Institution and the Alabama Historical Society now control this particular work (a fact we were unable to verity). In June of this year, Mayor Billy Shoemaker stated he hoped the mural completed in 1939 could be encapsulated in some manner while the restoration is completed.

The historic mural spans the length of one wall and depicts the arrival of Michael Dickson, Tuscumbia's first white settler. The artwork features Dickson and his family arriving by flatboat via Spring Creek where they are met by Chief Tuscumbia. Much New Deal art is no longer extant. It should be the priority of every Shoals citizen to ensure Jack McMillen's work doesn't fall to the jackhammer in the name of progress.