San Pedro Post Office: History of Writing Mural South, Preliminary Mural Maquette right panel, 1936-7 mixed media on paper mounted on masonite, 20 x 41 inches (image), 30 x 52 inches (framed); exhibited in Lost Horizons: Mural Dreams of Edward Biberman, Los Angeles County Museum of Art at SPARC's Duron Gallery from May 31 to August 29, 2014; illustrated in i) the catalog for the foregoing p. 22; and ii) (film) Kaufman, Jeffrey, Brush with Life: The Art of Being Edward Biberman, 2007, (DVD release 2010), 85 minutes; provenance estate of the artist; presented in newer frame from the 2014 LACMA/SPARC exhibition
About the Painting
Even before the creation of the WPA and the Treasury Department Section of Fine Arts, Biberman was known as a mural painter, having been selected for inclusion in one of the Museum of Modern Art’s early exhibitions in 1932, Murals by American Painters and Photographers. Around the same time, he also joined the National Society of Mural Painters. While in New York, Biberman lectured on muralism, taught classes on mural techniques and knew, admired, and drew lessons from Los Tres Grandes, the Mexican muralists, Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros. By his own reckoning, Biberman competed for seven or eight Federal Government mural projects during the 1930s and early 1940s. In addition to the San Pedro Post Office for which the present works were completed, Biberman submitted designs for the Rincon Annex Post Office (San Francisco), Department of the Interior Building (Washington, DC), the Recorder of Deeds Building (Washington, DC), and the St. Louis Post Office (St. Louis, Missouri), as well as projects in New Jersey and Dallas, Texas. Although Biberman did not win these competitions, he was awarded three Federal Government mural commissions based on being the runner up in several prior efforts. Biberman also served as a member of the jury for the national competition for the Social Security Building in Washington DC where he was able to reconnect with leaders of the Treasury Section of Fine Arts, including Edward Bruce, Edward Beatty Rowan, George Biddle, Holger Cahill and Forbes Watson. Biberman’s completed projects were a wall mural showcasing the history of Los Angeles for the Federal Building in Los Angeles, a ceiling mural for the same building depicting the contributions of four ethnic groups to the development of California, and his best-known mural, Abbott Kinney and the Story of Venice, for the Venice Post Office.
In October, 1936, the Treasury Department Section of Fine Arts announced the competition for the San Pedro California Post Office mural project. The request for submissions noted that the winning artist would receive the handsome sum of $4,900 for the 74-foot long mural. For his entry, Biberman explored the global history of written communication from message sticks through the printing press. In addition to his artistic skills, Biberman was a proficient writer and even better speaker. Words mattered deeply, so Biberman's selection of subject matter is unsurprising, as is his depictions of the contributions of earlier cultures from around the world. Native American peoples had played important parts in his completed mural for the Los Angeles Federal Building, as well as his submissions for the Department of the Interior Building and the Rincon Annex Post Office in San Francisco. Biberman's depiction of less well known forms of written communication such as marked pebbles likely was the result of his interest in historical research and his desire to deeply immerse himself in his mural submissions. "I got very excited by the work" Biberman recalled, "the research, let me say, proved to be one of the most fruitful areas of all of these jobs." Biberman was one of seventy-seven artists to submit designs and his friend and fellow Angelino, Fletcher Martin, won the commission for his designs portraying the history of mail delivery, which can still be seen today.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), in cooperation with SPAC, hosted a 2014 retrospective of Biberman’s mural-related art at the Duron Gallery, which included all of Biberman's existing designs for the San Pedro Post Office, including this work. This show ran concurrently with LACMA’s other exhibition, Edward Biberman, Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice, where the Abbott Kinney mural was displayed.
About the Artist
Edward Biberman was born in Philadelphia, the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. His artistic career started at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts followed by three years of study in Paris, where he associated closely with Calder and Noguchi and exhibited at the Salon d'Automne, Grand Palais, in 1927 and the Salon des Independents in 1929. Upon his return to the United States, Biberman spent time in New York City, where he showed at many of the city’s premier galleries and museums. His works were selected for several of the Museum of Modern Art’s early exhibitions of American artists, including 46 Painters and Sculptors Under the Age of 35 (1930) and Murals by American Painters and Photographers (1932). Hoping to escape the pressures of the New York art world, Biberman moved to Los Angeles in 1936 where he could be close to his family, including his film director brother, Herbert Biberman, and his sister-in-law, the Academy Award winning actress, Gale Sondergaard.
During the course of his long career, Biberman showed at the Salon d’Automne (Paris); Whitney Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and dozens of other museums and galleries across the US and in Europe. Biberman completed three murals for public works projects, including his work Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice for the Venice Post Office, which was installed for six months at LACMA in 2014. His works are in the permanent collections of more than a dozen museums, including the National Portrait Gallery (of the Smithsonian Institution), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Butler Institute of American Art, and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Several books are dedicated to Biberman’s art, as is a feature length documentary, Brush with Life: The Art of Being Edward Biberman (2007). Biberman’s art has undergone a resurgence of popularity during the past fifteen years with four solo or focused exhibitions, Edward Biberman Revisited (2009), Edward Biberman (2011-12), Lost Horizons: Mural Dreams of Edward Biberman (2014) and Edward Biberman, Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice (2014), and representation in a number of other exhibitions, such as To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America at the Smithsonian Institution and other institutions (2011), Pacific Standard Time (2012), Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists (2018),Black American Portraits (2021) at LACMA, Encounters in American Realism (2022) at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art and Art for the People WPA Paintings from the Dijkstra Collection (2023) at the Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento, CA), Oceanside Museum o f Art (Oceanside, CA) and The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens (San Marino, CA).
Biberman’s brand of modernism can fairly be divided into four categories 1) precisionist urban scenes of New York and Southern California which celebrate the creations of humanity; 2) portraits which expose not only the historical context, but also the souls, of his subjects; 3) rural landscapes and still life paintings which portray the beauty of America and its flora; and 4) social realist works which explore the struggles, hopes and shortcomings of our society. Regardless of genre, Biberman had a unique sense of structure and color. His figures are at the same time specific and universal. Taken as a whole, Biberman’s body of work presents the viewer with a compelling and often daring vision of 20th century America and its art.