Gleason Agriculture: Gleason, TN FAP Mural

Anne Poor. 1942. Gleason Agriculture., [tempera on canvas]. USPS, Gleason, TN.

On a recent trip to Martin to see my daughter, I mixed business with pleasure, and took the time to find two more of the FAP murals that were painted by women. (Though I should confess that is doesn’t feel like business at all to me, because I love these adventures I’ve been on lately, and am thoroughly enjoying spending hours immersed in research.)

The first of two murals I found that day, was this one in the tiny town of Gleason, TN. I have quickly learned that one of the greatest things about going to find these murals in person is that I’m visiting little towns that I don’t otherwise see. In TN, as in much of America, the highways now go around small downtown areas, and unless you go out of your way to find them, there are some really great places you will otherwise never experience. Technically, I drive through the edge of Gleason on Rt. 22 every time I go to Martin, but I had never seen the town itself. It had a time stands still feel to it, with a little square that was completely charming on the beautiful day that I visited, where I literally watched neighbors stop to catch up with each other. (I forgot to get pictures of the square, but maybe I’ll make a return trip someday to explore more.)

Post Office, Gleason, TN

While the exterior of the post office has a more modern look than the one in Livingston I had previously visited, as soon as I stepped through the doors I knew where to find the mural, because on the inside the layout was exactly the same as the first post office, which seemed quite a lucky coincidence. There the mural was, hanging over the postmaster’s door, for the people of this tiny town to enjoy every day.

This particular mural was painted in 1942 by the Artist, Anne Poor, who would go on to join the Women’s Army Corps during WWII as one of the only female war correspondent/ artists. (Look for more on her in a later post.) This mural was one of the last to be installed in Tennessee before the nation’s focus shifted to the war effort. In it it shows the history of the agriculture in the area, based on the cultivation of sweet potato plants, developed by Mr. W.R. Hawks.1 with a classic Train Depot in the background, and a market scene in the front.

I really liked this one, in the way that it reminded me of The Wizard of OZ movie, where it starts in black and white and then changed to color once they reach OZ. On the right is the representation of Hawkes the “father” of of sweet potato culture.2 In my opinion, much like in the movie, I feel like the black and white section is showing how the area was undeveloped and experiencing hard times, and then Hawks comes in and hands the planter a sweet potato slip, and the rest of the colorful portion of the painting is showing Gleason as a place of progress and prosperity after the town began cultivating this profitable crop. I feel like this technique really helps Poor tell a story of the area in one panel, and I think it’s well done.

  1. Hull, Howard. Tennessee Post Office Murals. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press, 1996.
  2. Ibid.

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