Friday, April 27, 2012

WPA Artist | Orr C. Fisher

Back in 1999, we published an essay (now online) about the painted murals that were made for US post offices in the 1930s and 40s as part of a government program called the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Among our favorites is an oil on canvas mural made in 1941 by Iowa-born artist Orr C(leveland) Fisher (1885-1974), titled The Corn Parade (reproduced above). It was commissioned to hang in the lobby of the new post office in Mount Ayr IA (and is apparently still there, assuming it hasn't closed), the seat of Ringgold Country in south central Iowa. (In an earlier post, we noted that Jackson Pollock's mother was born near Mount Ayr, and his father was also from Ringgold County.) As a WPA artist, Fisher also painted a mural for the post office in Forest City IA, titled Evening on the Farm (1942).

Fisher was originally from Ringgold County, having grown up near Delphos (originally named Borneo). According to online information (submitted by the artist's niece, Donna L. Howard) at a website on WPA murals, he studied art through correspondence schools, and (in 1913 and 1921) with Charles A. Cumming at the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines. While in Des Moines, he also studied at Drake University and worked with J.N. "Ding" Darling, the famous political cartoonist for the Des Moines Register

In an autobiographical article in 1930, as quoted in his niece's article, Fisher described his interest in art—

At an early age, yet in the primary department of a country school, I exhibited a talent for drawing by making pictures on my slate during the study period and on the blackboard at recesses and the noon hour. The barn doors, granary walls and every place on the old homestead where a smooth surface appeared was a temptation too strong to resist the markings of my pencil or chalk. Hence everything on the old farm was either decorated with comics or carved with knife in crude designs and initials. I use to draw with my finger in the plow furrow where the over-turned sod presented a smooth surface. On the way to school I would dig from the clay hills red and yellow soft rocks to color my pictures at school. This was before I knew what a crayola was.

He went on to say that "everywhere I have gone, I have drawn. I have drawn almost everything imaginable up to the modern art era, except a salary." Aside from being an artist, he worked for the railroad, drove a six-horse freight wagon, and produced articles, cartoons and illustrations for various publications. He was also an erstwhile inventor, and in 1904 (at age 19) he received a US Patent (No. 759,257) for an Automatic Whistle Operating Mechanism for locomotives (see patent diagram below). 

In later years, he lived in Woodstock NY, where he built a studio. In the 1960s, he moved to California, where he died in Fresno in 1974.