Marsh’s process for painting, always dependent on intense observation, was no different in relation to this commission. In fact, it may have intensified due to some criticism of details in his Washington post office murals. [viii] In order to make the murals “authentic” to the degree he demanded, the painter asked for permission to board ocean liners, walk the piers freely, and travel on the Ambrose lightship, pilot ships, tugboats, and Coast Guard cutters. Letters from William B. Owen, the New York supervisor for T.R.A.P., confirm the artist’s request to do this. According to a March 8, 1937 letter from the president of the United New York and New Jersey Sandy Hook Pilots’ Benevolent Association, for example, Marsh received permission pursuant to Owen’s letter to make trips on the pilot boat for “the purpose of obtaining material for the proposed mural which is to be placed in the rotunda of the Custom House.” The pilot boat delivered a pilot to the liner to take over navigation into the harbor, and the letter included the pilot boat schedule for Marsh’s convenience. The Superintendent of the Third Lighthouse District allowed the artist to visit the Ambrose Lighthouse to help “make Mr. Marsh’s material more authentic [emphasis added]” [ix] In addition, the head of T.R.A.P. arranged for Marsh to have passes from the different ocean lines to board their ships; Marsh saved the cards and letters issued to him by the Cunard White Star Limited, the Grace line, and the Hamburg America line. [x] He also had a pass to visit the Coast Guard cutter and a card giving him access to sketch Manhattan from the piers whenever he liked. The Museum of the City of New York has a program from the Queen Mary dated September 15, 1937 listing its passengers and general ship information for them. On it, Marsh wrote the name of the chief of T.R.A.P. procurement, Cecil Jones, and some supplies the artist needed to purchase.
[xiii] “ . . . and the bureaucratic lambasting Reginald Marsh received while he struggled with the new aesthetic of hard evidence was passed over in the cheery assertion that ‘he was not himself satisfied until [the engineers] accepted all the mechanical details in his Post Office machinery as being correct.’” Director of Procurement to S.W. Purdum, Fourth Assistant Postmaster General, March 3, 1936. Cited in Marling, Wall-to-Wall America, 251.
[ix] President of United New York and New Jersey Sandy Hook Pilots’ Benevolent Association to William B. Owen, Supervisor of T.R.A.P., March 8, 1947, Reginald Marsh Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 15, accessed May 1, 2012, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/container/viewer/treasury-department-art-projects-276551.
[x] Guy dal Piaz, Secretary, French Line to William B. Owen, Supervisor of T.R.A.P., February 9, 1937; Chief Marine Superintendent, Hamburg-American Line to William B. Owen, February 9, 1937;, Cunard White Star Line to William B. Owen, February 9, 1937; Vice President, Grace Line to William B. Owen, February 16, 1937 all give Marsh an official pass to their piers, Reginald Marsh Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 10, 11, 12, and 13, accessed May 1, 2012, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/container/viewer/treasury-department-art-projects-276551