Tuesday, April 30, 2013

St. Helena Post Office Murals, Socialist Realism, the CIA, Charles Krug and the United Farmworkers...

I stopped off at the St. Helena Post Office last night, after hours, to mail bills that I had neglected to mail earlier. The Post Office is open 24/7. A beautiful building, it is one of those awesome edifices that were built during the New Deal. All across the country you can still find the vestiges of beauty of New Deal buildings, the Post Office in Oroville being another, that were built with functionality and aesthetics in mind. Seventy years later, we still get to enjoy them.
Within this Post Office, there are two murals on the wall. The first one, over the office, glorifies the harvest and I think the mural is almost as old as the Post Office (mid 30's). I might be wrong about that though.
The second mural is around the side and depicts Hispanic workers during the grape harvest. I'd say this painting, although in the same style, is from the 1980's. Once again, the farm worker is glorified.

In the 1950's, the CIA actually bankrolled a modern art magazine and did various other activities to fight against "Social Realism" or "Socialist Realism" that depicted heroic scenes of daily life and a sympathetic evocative spirit towards workers and commoners. Mural paintings like the two above were seen as being subversive. And perhaps they are.

Right around the time that the Farmworker mural went up in the Post Office, the United Farmworkers actually signed a contract with one of the biggest and oldest wineries in the Napa Valley: Charles Krug owned by the Peter Mondavi family. Skip forward to 2006 and the Farmworkers no longer held the political power they had during the idealistic 70's. The winery canceled the contract and fired 24 workers. The United Farmworkers called for a boycott of Charles Krug and picketed the facility for months. The bad publicity didn't go over very well in politically correct Napa where every winery has a bank of solar panels and their vineyards are certified organic. In October of 2010, the Mondavi family gave up and negotiated a new UFW contract.  All the fired employees were rehired with full back pay and they were given a decent raise.

The murals stand as a testament to the workers of the Napa Valley (of which I am one). The beautiful murals certainly are more powerful than some paint splotch thrown at a canvas. I'm sorry, but social realism trumps some CIA sponsored modern art abstraction. Only the CIA could give us art that bad. And the good thing is that now I can drink Charles Krug wines without feeling guilty. They make some decent and affordable Cabernet Sauvignons. And they are Union Made. We need more of that.

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