By KAREN La PIERRE

klapierre@dailynews.net

In the uncertain days of the 1930s, the country sank into the Great Depression, and even the soil of western Kansas  blew and blew, seemingly angry with the earth itself.

Bread lines abounded, drought was rampant and wage-earners were unemployed.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, and he created the New Deal -- a series of programs, focusing on the three R's: relief, recovery and reform.

Work programs abounded as a result of the New Deal, the federal government built more than 1,100 post offices, and many of them are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- including the post offices in Goodland and Russell.

Even artists lacked employment, and a program coordinated through the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Art allowed artists to compete in juried competitions to receive commissions to paint murals  for post offices throughout the U.S.

To receive a commission with the section, artists submitted a design in anonymous competitions. The goal was to secure murals and sculpture of distinguished quality to embellish federal buildings and to make art accessible to all people, depicting life in communities where the mural was hung.

Renowned artists such as Birger Sandzen, Robert Kittredge and Dorthea Tomlinson all competed and received commissions from the competitions. Their works hang in post offices throughout the state.

The post office murals, installed above the postmaster's door,  are often mistaken for Works Progress Administration art, which they are not.

In Kansas, 29 murals and sculptures were commissioned. The themes for the murals went through numerous reviews before approval.

"Rural Free Delivery" by Kenneth M. Adams in the Goodland post office vividly portrays the  first horse and buggy delivery of rural mail and its importance to isolated  farm families who eagerly awaited letters, newspapers, mail-order catalogs and tools in the days before television and Internet.

The colorful mural, oil on canvas, measures 12 feet by 4 feet and was placed in 1937.

Adams was born in Topeka and attended Chicago Art Institute. He studied in New York and France and won many awards for his work.

"Wheat Workers," installed in 1940 in Russell, was painted by Martyl Schweig. The oil on canvas mural depicts farm laborers cutting and shocking wheat by hand. Oil derricks stand in the background.

Schweig, of St. Louis, Mo., graduated from Washington University and studied art from a young age.

It measures 14 feet by 5 feet.

While most people who regularly visit the Russell post office have gotten used to seeing them, the murals still grab the attention of some passersby.

"They thinks it's kind of a neat concept they did back when the artists were commissioned," said Troy Rathbun, postmaster of the Russell office.

Twenty-one  post office murals remain in place in Kansas.  Focusing on art fitting for the area, these murals have such names as "Wheat Center," "Picnic in Kansas," "Farm Life" and "Men and Wheat."