By Sarah Goh, UW News Lab/Special to CHS
In 1995, Seattle artist Terry Furchgott painted a six panel mural for the United States Postal Service. Her artwork hung behind the main counter of Seattle’s Central District post office on the southeast corner of 23rd and Union.
When the branch closed to make room for a new development in January 2019, the paintings disappeared. In the new location across the street, the wall behind the main counter remains bare.
“I really miss those paintings,” Central District neighbor Amy Hagopian said. “I thought they really captured the heart and soul of the Central District. What happened to them?”
Hagopian is not the only customer wondering where these paintings went. Furchgott herself had lost track of her mural as well. According to Ramanda Johnson, who has worked at the USPS Central District branch for 23 years, customers frequently ask her where these murals have gone.
“They were meaningful,” Johnson said. “It was a talking point for a lot of people who were from the original neighborhood.”
When Furchgott first painted the murals, she asked people from the neighborhood to pose as inspiration. As a result, Johnson recalls many customers pointing out the people they recognized from their neighborhood.
“There was a lady who recognized her neighbor’s cat and that guy in the military was somebody’s nephew,” Johnson said. “And that little girl. We could never figure out what the ribbon was for on her ankles.”
For one of these featured community members, Furchgott’s mural was a meaningful portrayal.
“One of the girls who’s putting the valentine in the mailbox,” Furchgott said, “She was a girl from a troubled family who was always getting into problems at school…I got a letter from her saying my mural had been helpful to her…to see herself portrayed as this lovely person sending a valentine.”
It’s these types of moments that are incredibly rewarding for Furchgott. As a community artist and Central District resident, Furchgott has designed and coordinated many community art projects such as Art to the People Project and The First Street Artist’s Collective.
She has completed many large public art commissions for Seattle with the goal of inviting more people to experience art. Furchgott wants to introduce art to not just buyers or galleries, but to people a part of the community.
For post office customer Mindy Stern, Furchgott’s mural deeply resonated with her long history of letter writing.
“I grew up in Brooklyn, New York,” Stern said. “And I used to walk with my grandmother, who was a Holocaust survivor, once a month to the post office…she would mail a package to my aunt in Israel.”
For 12 years, Stern worked on the campus of Providence Hospital, now known as Swedish Cherry Hill. On her lunch break, she would walk over to the post office to mail a package or letter. The line never bothered Stern. She would always look at the paintings while she was waiting.
“My husband and I wrote international letters to each other for five years,” Stern said. “It led to a very deep friendship, and eventually we got together. We’ve been married for 38 years with two kids and two grandchildren.”
Recently in August, Stern’s son and his family moved to Germany. She writes to them every week.
“Each time I send them a letter,” Stern said, “I imagine the look on their faces when they see they’ve got mail…Terry captured all of that in her work…I think about her paintings all the time.”
Meanwhile, the new development that now stands at the site of the old post office and shopping center stands eight stories and will be home to a new Black arts center when it opens for residents and commercial tenants in coming months.
So where is Terry Furchgott’s mural?
Johnson says she last heard the paintings were down in storage at the Columbia City Station. Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson says they have been set aside for the time being with no sufficient space in the new post office.
“I think there’s room here,” Johnson said. “They made it feel like it’s your neighborhood post office… I want our paintings back.”
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