Rockwell Kent’s “The Puerto Rican Mural”

“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

One thought on “Rockwell Kent’s “The Puerto Rican Mural”

  1. Remembering being with Rockwell Kent many times, at his home in Ausable Forks, and when, after long years, he had a retrospective art show in Maine, where many of his paintings were done. With his support, I started lecturing around New York state about his art and writings and political activism—and his endless speaking out about injustice.
    Rockwell lent me slides of his paintings so that I could copy them–and present his images as well as his ideas and work for justice. And that included discussing his mural about ‘mail service’ from Alaska to Puerto Rico for the United States government…
    I am thinking now, in 2017, how we are still mistreating fellow citizens in that island so devastated by a hurricane this year.
    Now, a President of the United States in 2017 is deliberately under-serving our fellow citizens of Puerto Rico. People are suffering throughout the island. Some are dying for lack of essentials– and medical relief—which is in short supple.
    Rockwell’s painting for the United States government used a message in a little known Eskimo dialect to urge the people to rise up and throw off this unfair treatment by the United States…
    Today we need to take seriously the needs in Puerto Rico, for housing, schools, medical care, clean water and electricity– which was so destroyed by the massive storm. We need to see our nation’s elected officials lead in rebuilding this island, not continue to ignore or denigrate, the people of Puerto Rico.
    In Solidarity with Puerto Rico and all world citizens so suffering from growing effects of Global Warming and devastating Climate Change,
    Linda M. Champagne
    LMChampagneArt@gmail.com
    November 11, 2017
    Niskayuna, New York

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