“Rico Puerto Rico” focused today on painter, illustrator, and writer Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), who 74 years ago was entreated to change a cryptic message painted in his work “The Puerto Rican Mural.”
Kent had been chosen by the U.S. Treasury Department to create a pair of murals for the Federal Post office in Washington, D.C. His assigned topic was “Mail Service in the Arctic and Tropic Territories of the U.S.” Sympathetic to agitators seeking to end U.S. dominance in Puerto Rico, Kent planted a cryptic message in a letter featured in the mural depicting mail service to Puerto Rico. As though sent from the Eskimos in the arctic mural, it said: It reads: “Puerto Rico miuniera ilaptiumum! Ke Ha Chimmeleulakut Anga-yoraacut. Amna Kitchimi Autummi Chuli Wapticum itti Cleoratatig tit.” This was translated as “To the people of Puerto Rico, our friends, go ahead, let us change chiefs. That alone can make us equal and free.”
At that moment, Time magazine wrote: “After newspapers had interpreted Artist Kent’s message as an encouragement to horrid revolt in Puerto Rico, Rear Admiral C. J. Peoples of the Treasury Department’s Procurement Division solemnly demanded an explanation, let it be known that the murals were not finally approved nor paid for. Greatly amused, however, was energetic Forbes Watson of the Treasury’s division of painting and sculpture. Said he: ‘In the first place there aren’t many who can read Eskimo around Washington—and I doubt that the Puerto Ricans can. In the second place it requires a magnifying glass to make the writing legible.’ On his farm near Ausable Forks, N. Y., Artist Kent was surprised to hear of all the fuss. ‘I think it’s a swell thing when people want independence and I think it’s the most American thing one can do to wish them luck,’said he. ‘In Puerto Rico a large part of the population is asking for at least the right to a plebiscite. It seems to me as an American that, speaking through the pen of the Eskimos, if the people of Puerto Rico want to be free, God bless them and go to it.’”
Eventually the mural was not destroyed or replaced, as the then-Governor of Puerto Rico, Blanton Winship had suggested, but the message was removed because the U. S. Treasury Department considered it to be subversive.
According to the Luce Foundation, which has the sketch depicting the mural before being mutilated, Rockwell Kent said: “The cause of independence in Puerto Rico needs no propaganda. Everybody knows that the majority of the people down there are in favor of it.”
[Many thanks to Luisa Samayoa for bringing this item to our attention.]
Full article (in Spanish), see http://www.noticel.com/noticia/113825/que-paso-hoy-video.html
Additional information from http://clubs.plattsburgh.edu/museum/rka_mural.htm