DPW- Environmental Division- Natural and Cultural Resources - Mural

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mural from building 2101 of a man playing a banjo for a woman

The Mural:

The stonework that surrounds Building 2101 sets it apart from surrounding World II buildings however, what binds this building to the past as a Black Officers' Club is the mural or painting. The painting is four by 10.5 feet and is done in oils on three plywood strips. The painting depicts a black couple at a picnic, he playing a banjo and she lounging back on one arm, listening. Although the painting was restored in 1995, it was not until 1998 that the identity of the artist was revealed. Samuel Countee, a professional artist who served with the 7th Training Group and 436th Engineer Company during World War II painted the mural in either 1943 or 1945. The landscape and figures may be autobiographical according to a close relative that visited the painting in 1998. The mural is historically significant as a creative art form alone, however; the identity of the artist has greatly enhanced the significance of the mural, the building, and its history.

Samuel A. Countee

Samuel Albert Countee was born in Marshall, Texas in 1909. In 1929 he entered Bishop College in Marshall and graduated in 1934. While at Bishop he was given the title, "Artist in Residence." In 1933 he received a Harmon Foundation Scholarship in Boston that led to a series of exhibitions in 1933-35 and his standing as a rising star in the northeastern art world. While in Boston, Countee continued his study at the Boston Museum School and at Harvard University. He continued to actively show his art in exhibitions at Howard University (1937), Atlanta University (1940), the Institute of Modern Art in Boston (1942), and Smith College (1943).

Like millions of other Americans Countee was called to service and entered the U.S. Army in 1942. Little is known about his life at Fort Leonard Wood except that the mural indicates that he was a Staff Sergeant. In any case, in 1943 Countee was assigned to the 436th Engineer Company that was shipped to Iran. In Iran, with the Persian Gulf Command, Countee was part of the mission to provide supplies to Russia through the Persian Corridor. A newspaper article in his family's possession indicates that during this time he was assigned to paint murals in the palace of the Shah of Iran. At the close of the war, Countee returned to Fort Leonard Wood. It is during this time that he may have painted the mural but a 1943 date is equally supportable

After the war Countee moved to New York where he appears to have settled into teaching art and painting portraits. During this period, Countee mentored artists and filmmakers and he occasionally exhibited his work, such as winning first prize in an Atlanta art competition in 1952. In 1955 Countee married Mary Miner and they lived on Long Island until he died of cancer in September 1959 at age 50. Samuel Countee was a prolific artist. Many of his paintings are still in the hands of friends and relatives as well as in art galleries, museums, and universities.

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