Sleuthing Louis Bunce

The first 40 pages of the initial draft are written for the monograph Roger Hull is writing about painter Louis Bunce (1907-1983).  Bunce was active in the art life of Portland, Oregon, for some 50 years, spending 6 years during that time in New York City.  He was a student at the Art Student’s League in New York from 1927-1931, in residence when the Museum of Modern Art first opened in 1929.  He knew Pollock, de Kooning, and many more.  He was in New York again in 1940-42 as a young artist.

Back in Oregon he participated in several of the New Deal art programs that were so crucial to artists and produced a large body of public art work.  In 1936 he and artist Eric Lamade worked as assistants to John Ballatore on two murals for the ST. John’s post office….and that’s where we found ourselves this evening.

The post office murals were part of the Treasury Department initiative called “TRAP” …Treasury Relief Art Program…not only to provide work for artists during the depression, but to provide art work of historic and “inspirational” content for the public morale during tough times.  (Another program in the New Deal was called the WPA…slightly different, but similar.)  In the Italian Renaissance frescoes and murals were in churches, because that’s where people gathered.  In 1930’s/40’s America the murals were in post offices.

But in 2014 post offices close right and left, mail delivery and processing is centralized in modern buildings, and the beautiful old post offices of the 1920’s and 30’s are reused or disappear.  If sold, they often contain murals which are still owned by the Treasury Department, but which the public sometimes needs to have access to…like tonight…

Post office St John's

The ST John’s post office is now a Baha’i Center…familiar to me because I grew up in Wilmette Illinois, home of one of two Baha’i temples world-wide…


and just inside the entry were the murals in question.


south side

North side

A quick glance proved a marked  influence by Italian painter Piero della Francesco and American painter Thomas Hart Benton.  Of course we don’t know if Bunce ever studied Piero’s cycle “The Legend of the True Cross” in Arezzo, Italy, but we DO know that both Ballatore and Bunce were in New York City in 1931 when Thomas Hart Benton’s mural cycle was unveiled at The New School.  In any case, much to look at before heading home….

south wall:woolenmillsNorthside left

here’s Piero…


here’s Benton


here’s Ballatore/Bunce/Lamade:

North wall right side

and HERE are really Ballatore, Bunce (mustache) and Lamade…

John, Louis Eric

“T.R.A.P. 1936…John Ballatore, Louis Bunce, Eric Lamade”

the book

This is really too much fun…




  1. Do you know who did the murals in the old Salem post office…now the Executive Building? They are all so grand!

    Sent from Frankie’s iPad


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s