Art Projects

The following is an excerpt from Sin Nombre: Hispana & Hispano Artists of the New Deal Era by Tey Marianna Nunn (University of New Mexico Press, 2001), printed here with the permission of the author. Additional commentary in italics by Kathy Flynn. Please note that any reproduction of the following without the author's permission is unauthorized.



American New Deal art was created under the auspices of a variety of different federal programs during a ten-year period between 1933 and 1943. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), Treasury Section of Printing and Sculpture (SECTION), Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), Federal Art Project (FAP), Farm Security Administration (FSA), National Youth Administration (NYA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Division of Women's and Professional Projects, oversaw arts-related projects. Many of the smaller components of the various New Deal government programs also contained "arts and crafts" elements. Although these so called "alphabet soup" terms or entities, are now generally bundled together and referred to under the umbrella term of "WPA," these federal programs contained key differences that separated them in artistic objective. While each encompassed some type of art or "craft" components, some were more successful than others.

PWAP was funded with money from the Civil Works Administration (CWA) via the Treasury Department and was the first but all too brief attempt by Uncle Sam to support the country's artists. The objective was to "give artists employment at craftsmen's wages in the embellishment of public property with works of art." Its guidelines stressed that "artists were to improve the craftsmanship of furnishings" of public buildings, embellish federal, state and municipal buildings and parks, a dn make pictorial records of such national projects as the CCC cams and Boulder Dam." Under the direction of key New Dealer Harry Hopkins, the PWAP ran for six months (Dec.1933-June 1934) and the country was divided into sixteen regions each with a committee to guide activities. New Mexico and Arizona made up Region 13 and Jesse Nusbaum chaired our committee. During its short existence, the PWAP employed approximately 3,521 artists nationwide who created over 15,000 works of art under the general theme of the "American Scene." The PWAP was not considered to be a relief program; rather it gave employment to those with "recognized competence" rather than "financial need."

While initiating the New Deal emergency programs, FDR appointed John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs and he held this position from 1933-45. During this time he took full advantage to promote Indian arts and crafts along with increasing employment, improving Indian health and education programs and much more. Datus Myers, the field coordinator for the Indian Division of the PWAP, worked hard to create a greater awareness of the Indian arts in this century, however the major participants in the project were primarily the then leading Indian painters, potters and sculptors all of whom created significant artistic and historical documentation of their culture. Some fine murals were done by four Native American artists for the Department of Interior building in Washington and possibly records can be found there of other work done and distributed around the nation. The Santa Fe Indian School became known as an institution that fostered both traditional and innovative arts.

The section was in place from October 1934 until October 1938 under the direction of Edward Bruce and a variation of that kept the program alive through June 1939. Operating parallel to both these projects was the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) which supported artists from July 1935 until June 1938. Both programs focused on "high" art and awarded commissions and projects only to artists considered to have a higher degree of skill. These programs evolved into the Section of Fine Arts of the Public Buildings Administration of the Federal Works Agency , which functioned from April 1940 through June 1943 and TRAP ran concurrently with the FAP and the other art programs of the WPA for three years. Despite constantly changing titles and dates, these Treasury Dept. fine art programs held a commonality in their project objectives. All works, most of which were murals, sculptures, and paintings, were created solely to enhance and decorate federal buildings and over eleven hundred post offices murals and sculptures for federal buildings in Washington and around the country were created through TRAP. Artists employed by these projects were not on relief or necessarily in financial need. They were awarded the commission based on the results of a competition.

WPA is the best remembered acronym and was the abbreviation for two project titles--Works Progress Administration and Works Projects Administration. The first started in August 1935 and became the second project in September 1939. – The merged "WPAs" were in effect until 1942. – Federal Art Project Number One was the artistic division of the enormous WPA entity and the most ambitious of all federally supported art projects. Unlike the PWAP, the FAP was a relief program. Artists and "craftsmen" had to qualify through a series of interviews, applications, and follow-up reports. Once they qualified, they were classified according to skill level. The amount of payment to FAP artists depended on their assigned skill level. The basic premise behind the FAP was that there should be "art for every man." since the New Dealers believed that art should be accessible to everyone. The physical result of these beliefs were hundreds of thousands of examples of the varieties of art for the world to appreciate. They were produced then allocated to public buildings all around the country. The FAP relied heavily on local sponsors who matched federal funds with a portion of the total project cost and provided local support for the arts activities.

Included in the local arts activities were the development of Federal Art Centers. By 1940 there were over one hundred federal art centers and federal art galleries throughout the United States. Art classes, exhibits, and lectures provided opportunities for making art more accessible to average Americans.

– Production of folk art and crafts was encouraged thereby recording and supporting the various unique cultures of the nation handed down through the generations. These included objects of art from such groups as Native American, Spanish American, Pennsylvania Dutch and other ethnicities. One project, the Index of American Design, was created to compile artistic renderings from all the states to accomplish such a collection. It is understood that in reality only Arizona, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico submitted such collections but it would be good to learn if other states did also provide this documentation.



Chicago Public Schools Art Collection Online Database

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has created an online database for its art collection. CPS art includes more than 500 murals created during the Progressive Era and under the auspices of the WPA. Many of these have been restored recently, some uncovered under layers of white wash.

For five years at The Art Institute of Chicago, they have helped teachers in 11 CPS schools incorporate school murals into their classroom instruction. In the last year of this program, which was funded by Polk Bros. Foundation, they created a Web site that includes examples of murals from each of the schools and a lesson plan created by a teacher from each school. The plans are good models for any teacher of K-8 students who has public art in their schools or community:

Thank you to Liz Seaton, Website Content Coordinator, Department of Museum Education, Art Institute of Chicago. for letting us know and providing a description of the database.


A New Deal for the Arts at the National Archives and Records Administration

During the Great Depression of the 1930s and into the early years of World War II, the Federal government sponsored a variety of art projects to provide work for unemployed artists. This remarkable effort is presented here with a unique selection of artworks, documents, and photographs provided by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Within this collection, users may view paintings such as Fishermen's Village by Edmund Lewandowski, History of Southern Illinois by Paul Kelpe, Years of Dust by Ben Shahn, Mine Rescue by Fletcher Martin, and many more. Providing an exceptionally diverse collage of artworks from this particular era, this colorful exhibit is divided into 5 categories -- rediscovering America, celebrating "the People", work pays America, activist arts, and useful arts.


The Museum of International Folk Art presents: WPA Sin Nombre: Hispana and Hispano Artists of the New Deal Era

[In Spanish and English] Hundreds of Hispana and Hispano artists created art for the various New Deal programs during the 1930s and 1940s under the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sin Nombre (Without Name) presents the work of these artists, who have been almost completely undocumented during this important period. Funding for website provided by the Rockefeller Foundation. Exhibition project funding at the Museum of International Folk Art provided by the Rockefeller Foundation; The National Endowment for the Arts; the McCune Charitable Foundation; Wilson and Company, Engineers & Architects; the International Folk Art Foundation; the Museum of New Mexico Foundation; and many private individuals. To learn more about the WPA era in New Mexico, read the companion volume by Nunn, Tey Marianna, Sin Nombre: Hispana and Hispano Artists of the New Deal Era (Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press) 2001 ISBN 0-8263-2399-5 8 x 10 inches, 288 pages, 70 color plates 75 half-tones hardcover $50.00 Museum of International Folk Art presents: PO Box 2087 Santa Fe, New Mexico 87504 505 476-1200 or can be purchased from NNDPA's Associates Program above.