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Jessie Hull Mayer’s Indiana Farm

Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. established the Section of Painting and Sculpture in 1934, during the Depression. The program’s purpose was to provide artistic decoration for public buildings across the United States while providing financial relief for artists. Because of their public access, post offices were chosen as the ideal location for the murals. Open competitions were held for artists requiring that they either live in or were born in the region to submit a mural design. Today, 36 of the original 37 mural commissions created for Indiana post offices survive.

In 1938, Jessie Hull Mayer submitted her winning design Indiana Farm. The painting, which was commissioned for the Jasper, Indiana, post office, shows farmers loading pumpkins onto a horse-drawn wagon while a woman opens a letter at the mailbox. Children, cows, a house, barns and trees are all part of the scene.

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1910, Jessie Hull Mayer was an American artist who grew up on the Long Island Sound in Branford, Connecticut. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Yale School of Fine Arts. While at Yale, she met and married fellow art student Henrik Martin Mayer in 1932. The couple moved to Indianapolis in 1934, when Henrik was hired as assistant director at the John Herron Art Institute.

While in Indianapolis, Jessie worked at the John Herron Art Museum as an artist and teacher. She submitted designs for post office murals and won three in Indiana and one in Missouri. In 1946, the couple moved to Essex, Connecticut, where Henrik had accepted the position as director of the Hartford Art School of the Wadsworth Atheneum. For the remainder of her career, Jessie worked as a commercial artist in retail advertising and continued to paint watercolors of flowers and marine subjects. She died in 2009.

Painted portrait of Jessie Hull Mayer by Lucy Martha Taggart.

Artist Lucy Martha Taggart, daughter of noted Hoosier Democratic politician and businessman Thomas Taggart, painted Mayer’s portrait circa 1942. Lucy studied art with many notable artists on the East Coast and Europe and exhibited her paintings widely. She was esspecially noted for her work in portraits. In 1931, she began teaching at the John Herron Art Institute and remained on the faculty as a painting and portrait instructor until 1943. (Gift of A. Thompson Ellwanger III in honor of Gregory E. Mescha, IHS)

The Jessie Hull Mayer Collection was originally put together by Baltimore art dealer Gregory E. Mescha. It all began when he purchased Mayer’s winning design for the Jasper post office mural. The painting was once owned by the Treasury Department until it was given to an employee who later sold it to Mescha. The collection also contains Mescha’s research materials and photographs documenting his research on the artist and the history of her winning mural design.

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