MIKE WAGONER

MIKE WAGONER

Small town charm oozes from every pore in Beaufort...and historic preservation is a virtue within this community.

The late William J. Murtagh, who was the first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, is credited with having once said: “Preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for the future.”

One focal point for discourse on public art in Beaufort is Town Hall. The building enjoyed a glamourous first life as the village post office. In the lobby are four murals that were hung in 1940. The paintings were funded through a massive public art project introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.

It was one of the “New Deal” economic stimulus plans to help create work for artists during the Great Depression...and beautify public buildings, chiefly post offices.

Beaufort got a modern, new postal facility on the northern edge of town in 2010. Townspeople fretted over what would become of the charming, old post office...and its famed murals, painted by Russian-born artist Simka Simkhovitch.

The town government stepped up, in need for more office space itself. A deal was struck. The town agreed to buy the building in 2011, and the murals would remain intact.

One of Simkhovitch’s murals memorializes the giant Cape Lookout Lighthouse that dates back to 1859. Its signal was visible 18 miles out to sea as the light revolved. The lighthouse is, far and away, the most iconic emblem that speaks to Carteret County’s maritime heritage and culture.

The connectivity grew even stronger when Beaufort officials forged a partnership with the National Park Service to share space at town hall, thereby creating Cape Lookout National Seashore’s Visitor Information Center in Beaufort.

We thank folks like Chloe Tuttle of Big Mill Bed & Breakfast in Williamston, for recommending her guests consider a daytrip to Beaufort to see the murals.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) had a bright idea in April 2019 to produce a series of five “Post Office Murals” Forever stamps, featuring murals painted about 80 years ago. The stamps seemed to be a big hit with consumers.

The headliner was “Airmail,” a mural painted by Daniel Rhodes, a native Iowan, that hangs in the post office in Piggott, Ark., a city of about 4,000 people in the upper northeast corner of the state near Missouri.

The painting shows a local letter carrier helping pilots load bags of mail onto their plane, representing “postal employees’ continuing commitment to serving our customers and communities across the United States,” said Pat Mendonca of the USPS.

Piggott was chartered in 1891 and named after Dr. James A. Piggott, one of the early settlers and “initiator of the local post office.”

Interestingly, four of the post office murals selected to become stamps in 2019 were from states west of the Mississippi River. How geographically correct is that?

In addition to Piggott, Ark, the western locales are: Anadarko, Okla.; Florence, Colo.; and Deming, N.M. The only eastern municipality represented is Rockville, Md.

Perhaps the USPS would consider a second series? Chloe Tuttle has great photos of two Beaufort murals that would be great candidates – “Sand Ponies” and “Goose Decoys.”

Simkhovitch painted a grouping of three of the wild horses he saw roaming freely over the “sand dunes and marshes of Beaufort in great numbers.” He also painted four full-body decoys, posing as Canadian geese with a fish net drying in the background.

Both scenes “depict the importance of the water and maritime life to the local economy,” commented Beaufort historian and artist Mary Warshaw.

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