Deb Malewski

Contributing Writer

If you’ve ever mailed a letter or package in the Eaton Rapids Post Office you’ve probably noticed the large mural above the service counter. It is one of about 1,400 similar murals throughout the country. In this area, there are also post office murals in Grand Ledge, Mason, and East Lansing.

Russian/French/American Boris Mestchersky (1889-1957) came to the US in 1937. He painted the oil-on-canvas mural “Industry and Agriculture,” which was installed in the Eaton Rapids post office in 1939.  Mestchersky was believed to be a Russian prince, in addition to being quite a well-respected artist at the time. He relinquished his royal title upon moving to the United States. The mural was commissioned by the Treasury Section of Fine Arts, as was the tradition when a new post office was opened. Although the Works Progress Administration (WPA) funded the construction of post office buildings, most post office artworks were funded through commissions under the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture, and not the WPA.

Mestchersky visited Eaton Rapids for about a week to research the industries of the area and to get an impression of the venue in which his mural would hang. He kept the color of the floor tiles in mind when he painted the mural and suggested to the Postmaster that the walls of the lobby should be painted to match the warm tones of his work. At that time the floor tiles were a rich red, but have since been replaced with earth tones that still blend well with the painting.

His work was not without controversy, of course, according to newspapers of the day. People laughed at the long-horned cattle in the painting, wondering if they came from Texas, and the workers from the woolen mills would come in and laugh at the skein winders in the painting, it was said. Others believed it was acceptable for the artist to take some liberties in his design.

Sadly, both Mestchresky and his wife were killed in an automobile accident in 1957 on their way to Washington DC.

Dennis Swan, a 23-year employee of the Eaton Rapids Post Office, remembers when he was hired in 1985 that the painting was rolled up and stored away.  When the post office was remodeled in the 1990s, the employees insisted that the mural be reinstalled, and it was.

“It could be that your fair town is the only place in this country that has a mural by a Russian prince,” said William S. Gamble, professor of art at Michigan State University. Technically, he said, the paintings are part of the Federal Government.