When millions of Americans were thrown into unemployment by The Great Depression, the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the W.P.A. [Works Progress Administration] to provide useful work and income to many of these suffering workers. George Biddle, an artist friend of FDR, wrote to the President, urging him to create a Federal program to support the American Artist. In 1933 FDR created the Civil Works Administration, under which the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was placed.
Bosque County, Texas and the City of Clifton were beneficiaries of some of these Federal Government initiatives. Ila McAfee was one of the artists employed in the PWPA, completing many commissions for post office locations including the one in Clifton, Texas.
McAfee was born 1897 in the small ranching community in southwestern Colorado. She was raised on her family’s ranch and attended Logan County School, riding on horseback ten miles each way to school. She then spent time in Los Angeles at the West Lake School of Art and the Haz Art School (1917-1918). Ila’s training and experience focussed on the natural world and animals. In Taos, she became known for her pueblo paintings, her depictions of horses and other animals, and her sweeping ranch scenes and landscapes. In late summer 1993, Ila McAfee left her adobe home in Taos, New Mexico to move to Pueblo, California, where she died in 1995.
When commissioned to paint the mural in the Clifton Post Office, Ila was encouraged by the local Postmaster to paint the Old Mill on the Bosque River, a beloved local landmark which had been destroyed by flood waters. She enlisted the help of J. Frank Dobie, the noted Texas folklorist, writer, and newspaper columnist. Dobie was widely known for his books depicting the richness and traditions of life in rural Texas during the time of the open range, and is considered an instrumental force in the saving of the Texas Longhorn breed of cattle from extinction. Ila McAfee and J. Frank Dobie’s collaboration prevailed over the suggestion of painting the Old Mill. The finished mural proudly displayed in the Clifton, Texas Post Office is a reflection of rural life of central Texas. “Texas Longhorns, a Vanishing Breed” celebrates the Texas Longhorns, bluebonnets, cactus, a cottontail and other wildlife, and cedar-covered hillsides.
Pause for a moment the next time you are in the Clifton Post Office to appreciate this valuable artwork.