(Listen to the audio playing above to hear Jerre Miller and Jim Shirley describe how they saved “The Cultivation of Raspberries.”)
The story starts in the 1930s. It starts when the country is in the midst of a Great Depression, shortly after a drought slammed Hopkins, killing a large portion of its famed raspberry crop.
Times were tough.
The federal Works Progress Administration tried to make things a little less tough by putting people back to work. People across the country built picnic shelters, carved out trails and erected buildings.
Some also created pieces of art.
One of these pieces of art was a mural that artist David Granahan painted in the newly opened Hopkins Post Office in 1936. “The Cultivation of Raspberries” was a Depression-era pastoral that depicted idyllic raspberry fields and quaint truck-farming plots.
But post offices aren’t any more permanent than the Hopkins raspberry fields that succumbed to development. The U.S. Postal Service slated the Hopkins Post Office for demolition in 1972—along with everything in it.
Terry Novak, the city manager at the time, suggested that someone search the building to see if there was anything worth saving. Former Mayor Jerre Miller, then a city councilman, and Jim Shirley, a Historical Society founder, went into the Post Office on a Saturday to see what they could find.
Miller said he thought they were just going to grab some chairs, signs or stamps. Instead, they found the sprawling mural lining the upper portion of the Post Office lobby.
The mural wasn’t designed to be moved from place to place, so Miller and Shirley used an ice scraper and an old snow shovel to scrape the mural from the wall. A museum curator would have winced at the process, but the men figured any damage they did would still be better than demolition.
“They built (post offices) then as though they were going to be defended as a fort, so the painting sort of matched that permanence,” Miller recalled. “It was just a terrible job—ripping tearing swearing. Of course, my kids were there one day and we had to watch that.”
The duo managed to hack off a section of mural and lug it to City Hall.
“We got—how do you figure—about a 100 feet more or less?” Miller asked.
“My recollection, Jerre, was completely different,” Shirley said. “There was a part that was loose. We were able to get some parts of it easier than the other parts, and we just gave up on it after we got six, eight, 10 feet of it.”
“I want to think more like a 100,” Miller said.
City records state that Miller and Shirley saved an 11½-foot panel from the 100-foot mural.
Because the Historical Society had just formed that same year, it didn’t have the resources to store the mural. So the city kept it in a City Hall stairwell. Eventually, the society donated it to the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum.
But the story doesn’t end there. Hopkins bought the reproduction rights for the image this year and is selling merchandise with “The Cultivation of Raspberries” to raise money for city marketing efforts.
Of course, these reproductions are just an echo of the original 100-foot mural. But hopefully, they’ll help many more people hear the story that started so long ago.
“The Cultivation of Raspberries” products are available for purchase from the city’s online store:
- 12-by-16-inch poster: $15.00 (1500 available)
- 17-by-36-inch poster on art paper/numbered: $40.00 (500 available)
- Legal size blank note cards: $4.25 each (2000)