Rural Free Delivery title

“Rural Free Delivery” brightens Goodland post office

Rural Free Delivery Section Art
Kenneth Miller Adams painted “Rural Free Delivery” as part of the Treasury Section Art portion of the New Deal. It hangs in the Godland, Kan., post office.

Rural Free Delivery” post office art lifts morale during the Great Depression

As America struggled to climb out of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt Administration put people to work. In Goodland, an artist’s delivery from unemployment resulted in a mural, “Rural Free Delivery“. The mural hangs in Goodland’s post office.
One of the administration’s programs, The Section for Fine Arts, employed artists to produce public art, including the mural Rural Free Delivery in the Goodland Post Office. To join government programs, artists had to prove they were professional artists, plus they had to prove they needed income. With those criteria established, the government sorted them into categories: Level One Artist, Level Two Artist, or Laborer. Their levels determined their salaries. Besides providing work for artists, the administration wanted to lift people’s morale in a time of great suffering.

Goodland post office finds Kenneth Miller Adams for its mural

Kenneth Miller Adams, Section Art muralist
Kenneth Miller Adams (Archives of American Art)

Other government programs built new post offices, including the one in Goodland, Kan. During its construction in 1935 and 1936, the post office looked for a muralist.

Cubist painter Kenneth Miller Adams was born in Topeka on Aug. 6, 1897. By 1933, he was teaching art at the University of New Mexico when fellow New Mexican artist Gustave Baumann approached him about joining “The Section.” The government offered him $42.40 a week, more than he was being paid as an art professor.

Adams finds good pay for creating art

Because of the increased pay, Adams left the university and went to work for the government. At first, he was hired to paint “easel paintings”. He was gratified to find that he was in one of the pay scale’s upper tiers. The government did not pay for materials and originally expected the artist to pay for them. Most artists could not afford art supplies. Eventually, sponsors were asked to supply materials.
Based on designs submitted for another competition, The Section awarded Adams the Goodland commission. He received the $985 contract on June 15, 1936. In preparation, he visited Goodland at least once and Postmaster Ed Elder sent him pictures of the area.
"Rural Free Delivery" mural painted by Kenneth Miller Adams installed above postmaster's office
Paul Mixer hung “Rural Free Delivery” above the postmaster’s office in Adams’ enforced absence. (Archives of American Art)

When the mural was finished, Adams hoped to supervise the oil-on-canvas mural’s hanging, but his wife’s illness prevented this. Instead, a man named Paul Mixer attached (PDF) the mural to the wall with white lead and varnish on March 3, 1937. In Class C and D post offices like Goodland, the murals were usually hung above the Postmaster’s office. Mixer’s installation of “Rural Free Delivery” followed suit.

Rural Free Delivery” called “a handsome picture”

For an artist to receive additional commissions, his postmaster had to recommend him. Adams had nothing to worry about from Goodland since Elder’s recommendation (PDF) was enthusiastic. He wrote to The Section’s Superintendent Ed Rowan “The mural … is a very fine job of painting and we have received a lot of very fine comment on it.… [I]t is a handsome picture and meets with our approval in every respect.”
Adams saw his work installed sometime before April 17, 1937, because he referred to this event in a letter to Rowan. In Rowan’s reply (PDF), he said Adams’ final payment would arrive soon. He added, “We are confident that it is an excellent piece of work and I look forward to seeing it myself.”
Whether Rowan ever came to Goodland is unknown.
Rural Free Delivery post office carrier
Seth Duell of Ruleton delivered his Rural Free Delivery route on a motorbike. (Marion and Betty Parker Collection/

Rural Free Delivery had brought the world to farmers

Why did Adams choose Rural Free Delivery (RFD) as his topic? Because RFD was crucial to rural America. Its institution had lessened farmers’ isolation. Before RFD, people had to go to a post office to receive their mail. With a mail carrier coming to their homes, they easily could receive letters, news, and even store-bought goods. RFD began in the late 1890s and the last routes had been established by 1926. Sherman County RFD routes were operating at least by 1902. The RFD carrier soon became a welcome symbol of rural life.

Adams receives no more Section work

Adams painted only one more work for The Section, in the Deming, N.M., Post Office. The Section offered him one more commission for the Seminole, Okla. post office, but “he knew no more of [Seminole] than he did of Florida”. Even worse, the pay would not cover the cost. He refused the commission and did not receive another.

GSA authorizes painting’s restoration

Many of The Section’s paintings have been lost or painted over, but Goodland’s is still in good shape. Its good condition is partially due to restoration efforts. In July 1969, Marion Fred Iserman restored the Goodland mural. The General Services Administration (GSA) had commissioned Iserman to inventory and restore many of the post office paintings. He cleaned them and retouched them when necessary. Iserman himself had been a Section artist for about three months.

National Register lists post office because of “Rural Free Delivery

Partially due to “Rural Free Delivery”, Goodland Post Office was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on Oct. 17, 1989. Post Office Section Art, including Goodland’s mural, was named one of Kansas Sampler Foundation’s Eight Wonders of Kansas Art finalists.

Visit the mural 24 hours a day

The counter is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; and Saturday 9-10:30 a.m. The last mail collection is Monday-Saturday 12:45 p.m. Mountain Time. Closed on federal holidays. The lobby is open around the clock.

Explore regional travel

Learn more about Goodland, Northwest Kansas, Kansas, and the Midwest. Goodland is the center of Land and Sky Scenic Byway.


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