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From the St. Johnsville Enterprise and News, April 17, 1940

New Mural in Post Office

Painted by Jirayr H. Zorthian of New Haven, Conn. Symbolizes Pioneer Influence in the Mohawk Valley.

The mural placed in the post office by the federal government and done by Jirayr, H. Zorthian of New Haven, Conn. is now in place. It graces the west wall of the the public lobby. The scene is blended but readily separates into three panels representing periods of development from the coming of the white trader up to the Revolutionary period.

The left panel is a typical trading post scene in which the white trader is dealing with the Indians. There are a few trade goods but the principal commodity is that sure and effective liquid which was the base of all barter--the rum keg. Through an open window, a glimpse of the valley is given which is cleverly drawn to suggest Mohawk Valley landscape. This is true of the whole mural. Artist Zorthian spent enough time here last year to catch a clear impression of valley scenery. A touch of purple here and there shows that he did not overlook that peculiar color element which creeps in all along the distances here in the valley, growing in volume as the fall frosts appear. In the trading group are four Mohawk Indians, two sober, and two more or less jingled. A squaw is seen seated tipping the bottle with evident relish. His Mohawk Indian is faithfully executed. He did not make the mistake of incorporating Sioux Indians for Mohawks. The trader is well dressed as were the early traders who sought o impress the savages with their importance. Later the trader dressed more and more like the savages, but the first ones were in fact merchants from Albany.

In the center is a young mother and babe. Here again the artist escaped a popular pitfall. He did not dress his characters like New England Puritans. There were German immigrants and the sons and daughters of immigrants and their costumes, language and architecture bore the imprint of the Palatines of the Rhine Valley. A prominent group in the middle foregrounds consists of a land owner a Mohawk chief, a Dominie, a frontiersman and a Mohawk maid. The are discussing matters of policy in a peaceful and amicable manner. Here we have the distinctive difference in matters of Mohawk valley Indian and frontier policy. Our settlers bought their land and lived at peace with the Indians. They came in as settlers and not conquerors. They learned the Indian language and taught and preached to the Indians in their own language. One of the best friends of the whites was King Hendrick who lived at Indian Castle. His likeness was selected for the Indian in the picture. Back of this group the Mohawk Valley spreads out with its church and mill and stone fort in the distance. In the extreme right hand corner is that heart rending scene which so often was enacted in this bloody valley. The return of the young husband and wife to their destroyed home after the invasion of the enemy during the Revolution. Here stands the skeleton fireplace and chimney amid the burned ruins of the home which they had built with hope and happy dreams. A dead horse signifies the end of their hard earned property values. And a real touch of genius was the incorporation in the picture of the grave stones of Henry Klock and Christian Nellis, the earliest known graves of our pioneers.

The features for the various characters were found among the photographs in the St. Johnsville room at the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library. The artists has succeeded very well in creating a type suited to Mohawk Valley stock. On the whole the mural is well executed from a purely mechanical point of view. The artist is a master craftsman. But more than that he has caught the spirit and atmosphere of the Mohawk Valley, for which we are grateful. There is a notable absence of the "spiritual" and allegorical type of mural. The work is literal and adapted to the environment of St. Johnsville. And that is as it should be.

Artist Zorthian has done many murals and is making a name for himself. Some of his work is in the state house in Nashville and in the new Light Building in New Haven. His work was shown in color in a recent issue of Life magazine.

 
09.15.12

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