Saturday, December 17, 2011

WPA—Would Politicians Approve?

John V. Bloom mural in Tipton, IA post office
I'm so lucky! There are, of course, many, many things that make me feel lucky in life. But right now I'm referring to the fact that I get to travel around the Midwest learning about and photographing things I never before knew existed (or may have taken for granted).

Moline, Illinois post office (currently for sale for $400,000)
That's the way I felt with today's Etsy post on the Works Progress Administration (WPA) era. I knew a little about it (and frankly I still know just a little about it, because it turns out there is so much to know). During Franklin Roosevelt's time more than 100 departments, known as the "Alphabet Agencies," were formed by the government to both provide work for people on relief (unemployed and supported by welfare).

These jobs included all kinds of artistic and recreational endeavors, as well as construction projects (many under the auspices of the Civilian Conservation Corps—CCC). While I chose to focus on murals and buildings within driving distance of my home (and in the case of the boathouse above, within walking distance), I discovered that there are a plethora of WPA-era murals in post offices around Iowa and Illinois.

Edward Millman mural in Moline, IL post office
There are, of course, well known murals from this time period—those in San Francisco's Coit Tower come to mind. But to learn that so many murals were painted for tiny post offices, and that most are still in existence, amazes know that every day people are in the presence of artwork whose creation helped feed artist's families, while enabling artists (and actors, musicians, writers, and craftspeople of all sorts) to continue in their chosen line of work...and to know that the government valued those lines of work enough to support them, is nothing short of stunning.

There were certainly people who felt disdain for the New Deal and the Alphabet Agencies, but not so many that the programs didn't exist.

I've had a number of conversations with people about whether this kind of government work program could work today. What do you think? Why or why not?


Kathy C said...

Every summer we hike at Acadia National Park, where, in the 1930s, the young men of the CCC constructed breaktaking trails and cut the granite blocks that line the roads. I'd like to think that we could do something like that again. When there is such high employment among teenagers and young adults, taking young men (and women) out of that environment for even a month to accomplish something through their own hands and hard work could be lifechanging. It will never happen, however, it's not politically correct.

Mandy Behrens said...

Linzee -- Thank you for sharing your story here and on Etsy today. I just left a comment there. I'm grateful for the research I did last year on the The Great Depression, specifically the migrant families of the Dust Bowl for my DUST BOWL GLIMPSES paintings. I do believe that we as a nation would greatly benefit from programs similar Roosevelt's New Deal programs. All my best, Mandy

PatsyOx said...

I really enjoyed reading the Etsy post. We don't have murals in our post office but our city park has a wall or fence built by the WPA using local sandstone. We call the park tower "Pike's Tower" as it was built (by the WPA also) to commemorate Pike's expedition. Though I am an artist and paint murals on occasion, I'd rather see communities supporting their own local art and artists. I've been involved with mural projects funded by government grants. One problem is upkeep is left to the communities and if the local citizens don't value the work (and they often don't value what they haven't paid for)they may not be willing to do the upkeep.
I do support arts in the schools.

jill/marny said...

Linzee, There are wonderful murals in the Iowa State University Library that were created during this same time period. If you make it to Ames, give me a call and we'll go see them together! jill