San Buenaventura, more familiarly know as Ventura. The name, for most, conjures images of the quintessential Southern California beach town. Sun. Surf. Fish Tacos. A laid back slice of charm nestled between the vast expanse of the Los Angeles metropolitan area and the chic hillsides of Santa Barbara. But Ventura is all of this and much, much more. It is a city of history, of stunning natural beauty, of art and artistry, good food, fine wines and tasty craft brews; a city featuring all of the cultural diversity that makes Southern California so very unique. Joining rich past, charming present and much promise for the future, Ventura is, quite simply, quintessential California.
A bit of both history and art is to be found right up the street from the Visitors Center where I spend a few hours each week as a customer service volunteer. I am frequently asked about the location of the post office, but never about the unique works of art that run along the upper portion of its walls in both the lobby and retail area. When you walk in and as you are waiting in line to mail your postcards to family and friends, look up and around. Consider and enjoy the Depression era work of artist Gordon K. Grant. The subject matter is labor, “Agriculture and Industries of Ventura”; the style of art American Scene or Regionalist painting. Depicted are cattle, horses, fields and laborers of many different types including men milking cows and women packing citrus. Stylistically considered modern realist (think Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton), the murals seem to me to have an almost stylized, folk art quality. Not entirely surprising as they were intended to celebrate the virtues of small town or rural life and advance an overt narrative favoring labor and the nationalist, pro-labor politics of the era.
The murals, happily renovated in 1966, date from 1936-37 and were funded by the Federal Arts Project, under the New Deal WPA, which put the unemployed to work on a wide range of public projects. Go check them out. Let us know what you think. Ventura is lucky to have these works. Similar murals by Grant, created for Alhambra, CA. – with such evocative names as “El Paysano,” “El Gringo,” and “El Indio” (imagine!) – were painted over, so ours are particularly to be treasured.
Agriculture and Industries of Ventura, 1936-37
Artist: Gordon K. Grant
San Buenaventura Post Office, 675 E. Santa Clara Street.