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'Fish Story' is comprised of two fishermen - one Native and one non-Native - and a fish trio between them.
"Fish Story" is comprised of two fishermen - one Native and one non-Native - and a fish trio between them.
A detail of the fish.
A detail of the fish.
The old Spearfish Post Office, built in 1940.
The old Spearfish Post Office, built in 1940.

The One That Got Away … Briefly

Mar 6, 2019

A unique sculpture in Spearfish reminds us of a time when a national public art program was possible.

Fish Story — a tri-part set of sculptures — was created by artist Marion Overby for the old Spearfish post office. The New Deal's rural post office murals brought art that dignified rural life to accessible settings.

An alumnus of the influential Cranbrook Academy of Art who later worked alongside designers Charles and Ray Eames, Overby received commissions from at least two small town post offices during the New Deal era. Her terra-cotta relief mural Early Postman is still on display at the post office in Mason, Michigan.

The old Spearfish Post Office was built in 1940, as part of an accelerated federal building program. The simple style and brick facade are typical of "Class C" post offices built in small towns during the era. The sculpture was commissioned in 1943. Overby wrote that she named the piece Fish Story because, "I am sure the country around Spearfish is full of tall tales of fishing and record-breaking catches."

Carved from California walnut, the sculpture depicts a Native American fisherman with a spear and a non-Native fisherman in waders with rod-and-reel. Despite their differences in hairstyle and dress, both men look nearly identical. A fish trio swims between them. 

"When this building was abandoned by the post office in 1996, the Smithsonian came and took it to D.C.," says Kathy Standen, a personal banker at Great Western Bank, which occupies the old post office building today. "When the bank reopened in 1999, our bank president went to Senator Daschle and asked him if we could have that artwork back. Senator Daschle made it available for us and then they brought it back and put it back up on the wall."

Michael Zimny is the social media engagement specialist for South Dakota Public Broadcasting in Vermillion. He blogs for SDPB and contributes arts columns to the South Dakota Magazine website.


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