|A partial view of the Frank W. Long mural in Berea City Hall.
Frank Weathers Long (1906 - 1999) was an American artist and craftsman, who was born in Knoxville, TN in 1906. Long lived in Berea, KY between 1934 and 1962 while operating an art studio, lapidary, and jewelry business. He was one of the artists who was chosen to participate in a government-sponsored art program to put citizens back to work and increase their confidence in the United States under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The program sponsored murals and sculptures to be completed within Post Offices across the nation. Long decorated 6 buildings with murals and the Berea Post Office was among them. This mural, titled Berea Commencement in the Old Days, was Long’s last government sponsored commission. Berea Commencement in the Old Days took 5-6 weeks to complete and Long was paid $800 for the job. Today, no one except professionals are allowed to work on the mural in order to keep it well-preserved.
Within the mural are scenes of an academic ritual that show the communal celebration that would occur during the early era of Berea College. People came from miles away in the countryside to barter items, such as horses and pistols, and attend events like auctions and dances. Some of the figures were even contemporary members of the community at the time, such as the gentleman playing the dulcimer in the lower right corner who is actually musician John Jacob Niles. Long showed a diverse group of people in order to reflect the unique community of Berea. These scenes resemble a county fair more than the academic celebration that it actually was, which reflects how the community itself interacted. This mural, along with Frank Long’s entire government-sponsored career, are part of the biggest public art program to ever have existed in the USA.
After the installation of the Berea Post Office mural, Word War II began and the public was no longer supportive of the government spending its funds on art. Murals were now viewed as a waste of time and resources so Long’s commissions were ended and eventually he was drafted. However, the mural today makes the Berea Post Office one of only 110 post offices in the country adorned with this era of painting.
During his time in Berea, Long also created smaller scale paintings that were sold to the public and hung in homes throughout the Berea area. When returning from the war, Long decided that painting no longer served its purpose to him personally so he left for New Mexico to learn how to create jewelry. He came back to Berea for a short time to practice and sell his jewelry before accepting another government job that took him to Alaska. From there, he travelled for his job of preserving and protecting Native American artifacts in Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona, and Florida. He retired in 1969 in New Mexico where he continued to create new and innovative jewelry. Long died in Diamondhead, Mississippi in 1999.
1. Beckham, Sue B. “A Kentucky Artist and a Federal Program: Frank Long and the Treasury Section of Fine Art.” The Kentucky Review (1988): 32-55.
--“Noted Painter Locates Here.” Berea Citizen Paper, October 5, 1933.
--“Long doing Postal Murals.” Berea Citizen Paper, December 19, 1935.
--“Frank Long at Fort Meade.” Berea Citizen Paper, August 27, 1942.
Beckham, Sue B. “A Kentucky Artist and a Federal Program: Frank Long and the Treasury Section of Fine Art.” The Kentucky Review (1988): 32-55.
Long, Frank W. Confessions of a Depression Muralist. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.
Steer, Keith. “Berea Post Office mural the work of Frank Long.” Berea Citizen Paper, January 17, 1985.
Steer, Keith, “Frank Long creator of beautiful jewelry as well as painting and murals.” Berea Citizen Paper, January 24, 1985.