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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

New Deal art provided hope

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Whether considered a curse or a blessing, the "New Deal Programs" of President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl helped provide food and money for millions of people during these hard years. In all walks of life, old timers recall their time spent working for the WPA in various public works projects or the lifesaving CCC serving young men offering food, board and practical training in many fields.

Lesser-known New Deal Programs to aid smaller special groups came into being in 1933 when the U.S. Treasury launched a program called the Public Works of Art Project. Funds were allocated to help artists, writers and photographers to record current history, the mass migration of the people and to try to bring some beauty into a drab existence.

There were no shortages of artists or subjects. The first problem was where to display the art? Since a part of the Public Works Program was to build much-needed government or public buildings providing work for the people, many new post offices and federal buildings were constructed and chosen to display the artistic murals created by the artists.

The term "mural" comes from the Latin word murus, meaning wall. Thus artwork appearing on walls or extended areas are called murals. Often, the new buildings had areas that were odd-size or had windows or doors in the selected mural site challenging the artists further.

By the end of the program in 1934, about 15,660 works of art including 700 murals, painted by 3,750 artists were displayed throughout the nation. Later the program was extended from 1938 to 1943, creating many more.
In Texas, 106 artworks were created and located in 69 post offices and other federal buildings. Most of the Texas mural subjects contain scenes from Texas history. Sites in the Panhandle include Amarillo, Borger, Wellington, Quanah, Canyon, Hereford, Littlefield, Lamesa, Electra and Brownfield.

Among the participating artists, a few who later became famous were Peter Hurd, Tom Lea and Julius Woeltz. The book, "The Texas Post Office Murals - Art For The People" by Philip Paris, provides the best, most accurate information on the subject. Our hats are off to the author for this well-researched work. The scenes shown are in brilliant color and detail.
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No doubt the original purpose to the program was successful providing money for survival for many young artisans. To be chosen to paint a mural was an honor and offered a great chance to exhibit personal talent. For a few, the program gave a jump-start to their early artistic careers.

Time has proved, more important than supporting the artists, the program provided a distraction for the hard-pressed common people as they viewed the works in progress inside the buildings. Times were hard, and the Dust Bowl had left little beauty in the countryside. The brilliant colors and historical scenes of the murals gave the public a glimpse of their roots, the beauty of color and the hope that better times were just around the corner. If you live near one of these murals, check it out. Now you know the history.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"

October 2, 2007 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.

Related Stories:
Post Office Art by Bob Bowman
Post Office Murals
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