Update on missing sculpture at the Hammonton Post Office
In the April 30 edition of The Gazette, I published a column titled “The man behind the missing mural at the post office.” The “man” in the column’s title was Spero Anargyros, a Greek artist and sculptor who was 23 at the time the artwork, a frieze called “Harvest” that once hung over the office door of the Hammonton Postmaster (then Postmistress Irma Adams) in 1940.
A clock that was donated to the post office by The Gazette now hangs in that space.
The frieze “Harvest” was a sculpture, not a mural (my bad). I wrote the column because I had read an article in the April edition of New Jersey Monthly after it arrived at The Gazette. Rowan University Professor Fred B. Adelson wrote about the outstanding examples of New Deal artwork in New Jersey, commissioned under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration from 1933 to 1943 to provide work for artists during the Great Depression.
It made me think about the Hammonton Post Office and its connection to a nationally and internationally famous artist.
Hammonton used to have its own piece of New Deal artwork, inside the Hammonton Post Office, which was itself a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The building was completed in 1939.
Research revealed that the artwork, a “bas-relief sculpture” or “tablet” was commissioned for the “Hammonton USPO” in 1938.
“Harvest” was the first commissioned artwork of Anargyros, the artist and sculptor. He was only 23 years old when his artwork was commissioned by the Treasury of Fine Arts, which the website www.livingnewdeal.org said was completed (and most likely installed) in the Hammonton Post Office in 1940.
As most of you have noticed, “Harvest” no longer hangs in the post office. It is listed as “missing” on all the research websites I went through. Back in April, I wrote that I couldn’t even find a picture of what it looked like.
That all changed in the weeks after my column appeared. These days, thanks to our revamped website, the articles, photos and columns in The Gazette are seen by more people than ever.
I’m happy to give you an update on the search for the missing sculpture.
On May 30, 2021, a month after my column on the missing sculpture appeared in The Gazette, a photo of the sculpture from the National Archives was posted on the website postofficefans.com by David W. Gates Jr. under the header “Hammonton NJ Harvest.”
Gates, whose online biographical information calls him “an award-winning author who writes about the murals and other forms of art found in post offices nationwide” and is based in Illinois, also made a trip to the Hammonton Post Office on May 22, 2021. He posted about the trip on postofficefans.com, including photos of our post office, on June 3, 2021. Under “Sources” on his post he included a link to my Gazette column on the subject from April 30, 2021.
Here is what Gates wrote in his post:
“The Hammonton post office is still an active, operating facility, however, the sculpture has been reported lost, missing or destroyed. The sculpture previously resided in the lobby above the postmaster’s door.
“Although I’m sad to not find out any further information regarding the fate of this sculpture … The National Archives does have the original images taken when the work was completed. But that’s about all I have,” Gates wrote.
The photograph clearly shows the sculpture “Harvest” hanging over the door to the postmaster’s office, where the clock hangs now. The approximately four-foot tall artwork includes the figures of a man, a woman, a child, a donkey’s head and a small goat. All appear to be in mid-stride.
After the photograph of the sculpture revealed what “Harvest” looked like, I asked current Hammonton Postmaster Jim McFadden if he could look for it in the building. He searched the basement of the post office but found nothing. McFadden did produce photographs of a renovation of the post office building from the 1960s that showed no sign of the sculpture. So sometime between 1939, when the building was opened, and the 1960s, when it was renovated, the sculpture no longer hung in the lobby of the post office. But why was it taken down? And where did it go?
It remains a shame we lost the artwork Anargyros did for the Hammonton Post Office, because he went on to do amazing work in a career that lasted until his death in 2004 at the age of 89.
Here, from the catalogue on the artist’s website (www.speroanargyros.com) are just a sampling of some of his commissions during his long and successful life as an artist that followed Anargyros’ first commissioned artwork in the 1930s that once hung in Hammonton. Most of the artworks on this brief date-order list of samples taken from a larger list are large sculptures and commemorative medallions for events.
In addition to the Bas-Relief Sculpture in the Hammonton Post Office in 1938, some of Anargyros’ major works include: a Portrait bust of Kirk Douglas, actor from 1947; a Mount Rushmore National Monument Medallion from 1968; a 9-inch Poly-Bronze statue of the Hills Bros. Coffee Drinker, Hills Bros. Plaza, San Francisco from 1992; and a 36 inch by 60 inch bronze portrait bas relief of Nelson Mandela, then president of South Africa and Nobel Prize winner & Daisaku Ikeda, six castings from 2003.
These are just some of Anargyros’ commissions. His first commissioned artwork for the Hammonton Post Office (that work, “Harvest” is still proudly listed first on the list of commissions on his website, 16 years after his death) led to his lifetime of work on the national and international stage.
If anyone has any information about the Anargyros work “Harvest” which used to be on display at the Hammonton Post Office from 1940 to the 1960s, contact The Gazette at (609) 704-1940.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.