RENOVO - Like many children, Ron Campbell's interest in the United States Postal Service came at a young age. Campbell learned early on as a youngster how to request free items in the mail. He would then wait in the following weeks, anxiously, for his letter carrier to make the daily rounds to his house, in hopes that the day's delivery would contain something for him to open.
Now teaching government at Mount Clemens High School in Michigan and residing in Chippewa Valley, Ron's appreciation of the postal service has not diminished. He said he still looks forward to getting his mail each day, and the employees of his own post office know him well. He implies that his limited use of technology is intentional, offering that he would much rather hold a picture in his hand and send it by mail than view a digital copy sent via e-mail.
Four years ago, the school teacher and member of his city's council was looking for information on Iowa, where his father grew up, when he stumbled upon post office art; something he previously never knew existed.
Ron Campbell of Michigan is a post office art aficionado and visited Renovo recently to see the famed “Locomotive Repair Operation” mural in the local post office’s lobby.
"I had no idea that during the Great Depression the government set aside money to decorate the post offices. I quickly gravitated toward the regionalism pieces," Campbell said. To him, ordinary people doing everyday things, captured by artists, is an ultimate time capsule of the era.
"At the time, art such as this sort of fell out if favor. People saw these things every day," he said. "Now, however, they have become the rage, with artists capturing something that no longer exists."
Soon, the Michigan man said, he was researching post office art across the country, which eventually led to trips to visit various pieces. After four years of such trips, one of the murals he wanted to see the most found its way onto his map - the "Locomotive Repair Operation" painting by Harold Lehman in the lobby of the Renovo post office.
A few weeks ago, Campbell and a friend set off to visit 35 post offices and their respective works of art spanning the states of New York to Connec-ticut. The one Pennsyl-vania office here, however, was his most anticipated and first stop of the multi-state trip.
He was not disappointed.
"Renovo's was my favorite of the whole trip, one of the best that I've ever seen," Campbell said upon returning to Michigan.
The mural depicts men working on a jib crane operation outside the erecting shop in Renovo, capturing a scene from the railroad shops across from Erie Avenue, circa 1940. The mural was completed by Lehman in 1943, and he received a commission of $850.
"It's very industrial, which again makes it one of my favorite pieces of work," the art admirer said. "I love the production poster that the foreman is holding, the story behind the badges and the fact that these murals as a whole were done between 1934 and 1943, making this one of the final paintings ever completed."
The story behind the badges is the belief that Lehman was told not to put any type of union markings in the painting, with those orders coming from the foreman. After meeting with the workers and after Lehman himself was presented with badges from the Brotherhood of Railroad Shop Crafts of America and the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, the badges' images found their way into his painting in a not-so-discreet way.
Upon visiting each post office on his journeys, in addition to simply studying the art, Campbell takes a few photos, including one of himself with the artwork. He then enjoys sharing with his students stories of his summer trips and small towns he visits. He insists they will hear only good things of Renovo.
"Renovo's mural and story make for wonderful topics, such a fascinating history with an amazing piece of art capturing it when the town made its contributions to a nation," the appreciative visitor said.