Art History Alongside Mailboxes And Postage Stamps

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2min 22sec
Courtesy of Pat Musick

The following is part of KRCC's 'Peak Past' essay series.

If you ever need stamps and have some time to spare, go to the Manitou Springs Post Office. As you wait in line, you’ll get the gallery treatment of a wall-to-wall work of art with what looks like petroglyphs telling  our region’s origin story.

Photo Courtesy of Pat Musick
Archie Musick in 1932 pauses from working on the tiny studio/shack he built near the Garden of the Gods and lived in for eleven years while a student at the Broadmoor Art Academy/Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Musick also taught art in the Cheyenne Mountain school district and painted three New Deal murals, including in the Manitou Springs post office.

The mural, titled, “Hunters, Red and White,” looks like it’s carved in rock, but the shades of brown and tan and green and red give away the painter’s touch.

The work is by local artist Archie Musick. His mural at Manitou’s post office was a Section of Fine Arts Project which funded public art in Federal buildings - mostly post offices, but also, the Justice Department in Washington D.C.

In the summer of 1941, Musick learned the Project had put out a call for art in post offices. He submitted a design for a South Denver post office and didn’t get the gig. But later he learned the judges liked his work enough to award him the Manitou Springs post office commission.

After submitting a draft sketch, a Project judge suggested Musick expand on one small part of his draft that included Lt. Zebulon Pike’s initial encounter with Indigenous people. 

A few months later, in the summer of 1942, Musick painted his work straight onto the wall. Not on a canvas or in a studio — he worked on a ladder with egg tempura and colored pencils.

Minolta DSC
Courtesy of Pat Musick
City Auditorium mural, 1934: "Hard Rock Miners" and its companion mural, "The Arts" by Tabor Utley, are located at either end of the entrance lobby of the Colorado Springs City Auditorium and together reflect a community: work and culture.

Musick’s elevated artwork is Manitou’s version of the Sistine Chapel. Great art transcends museum walls. Sometimes it’s where you least expect it, like the post office, where you go for the stamps, but stick around for the inspiration.

Until our next mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

Editor's note: A previous version of this essay incorrectly identified the mural as a Public Works of Art Project rather than a Section of Fine Arts Project.

Peak Past (formerly Peak Perspectives) is a weekly segment written and voiced by Matt Cavanaugh, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and a resident of Manitou Springs where he lives with his wife and two young children. Through his writing, Cavanuagh explores life in the Pikes Peak region, including the gradients and subtleties of our lives in the shadow of America's Mountain. 

You can find more work by Cavanaugh here.

KRCC's Abigail Beckman manages the "Peak Past" series. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of KRCC or Colorado Public Radio.

Peak Past is sponsored by Pueblo Recycle Works.