FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records from the Great Depression

Cath Madden Trindle

WPA Federal Theatre Project

1935 – 1939 (NARA 69.5.4)

Federal Theatre Project presents "Festival of American dance" featuring "An American exodus"

Poster for Federal Theatre Project presentation of a “Festival of American Dance” featuring “An American Exodus” at the Alcazar, showing a man and a woman dancing. (LOC Collections)

The primary goal of the Federal Theatre Project was to implement the reemployment of theater workers who were on public relief rolls, including actors, directors, playwrights, designers, vaudeville artists, and stage technicians.  A secondary goal was to make theater a vital part of community life, an art form that would continue to function after the FTP program was completed.

Theater projects were set up in towns where a number of theater professionals were unemployed.  At its largest, the Federal Theatre Project employed around 12,700 people. Over 90% of these employees came from the relief rolls.

Ninety percent of the FTP appropriation had to be spent on wages. About fifty per cent of FTP personnel were actors. Others were writers, designers, theater musicians, dancers, stage hands, box office staff, ushers, maintenance workers, and the business personnel necessary to operate the program in a way that would meet government standards.  There were theater companies in some forty cities in twenty two states. In order to reach the more rural areas some of the companies toured.  Classic plays shared the stage with those newly written for the project, puppet shows, dance reviews, children’s theater, ethnic theater, foreign plays and more.

Among the largest theater companies was the one in Los Angeles.  San Francisco and San Diego also had companies.

Photographic Print from San Francisco production of Power. Finding Aid Box 1182.

The University of Southern California and UCLA both have collections of scripts and other items relating to the theater project in the Los Angeles area. San Francisco Public Library history room has items relating to the program on Treasure Island. UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library has photographs for SF Bay area productions.  Check the OAC for other materials available in California.

Collections at the National Archives include among other things: correspondence, staging blueprints, specifics on certain productions, over 25,000 photographs, drawings and paintings of costumes and set designs, and posters.

The Federal Theatre Project Collection (Finding Aid), housed in the Library of Congress’ Performing Arts Reading Room, contains correspondence, memoranda, play and radio scripts, reports, research studies, manuals, publications, bulletins, forms, lists, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, charts, costume and set designs, blueprints, posters, addressograph plates, photographs, negatives, slides, playbills, and other records documenting the role of the Federal Theatre Project in laying the groundwork during the New Deal years for much innovation in the theater. (LOC Guide – Federal Theatre Project).  American Memory – FTP.

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June 5-8 2014 Burbank CA

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California Genealogical & Historical Projects

Sutters Mill California History at Night , a photography project by Sarah Blair is seeking $4000 to photograph California Historical Sites at night.  You can read more and see a video on the Kickstarter website.  California History at Night

 

Weekly Blog Recommendation  Orange line 3

Inquiring Minds: Commemorating the Federal Writers’ Project  on the

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Society Update

May 1 – Vallejo-Benicia Genealogy Society   – Election – Potluck – Foreign Research –  Check website or contact program chair for more information.

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FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records from the Great Depression

Cath Madden Trindle

WPA Federal Arts Project

1935 – 1939 (NARA 69.5.2)

File:Archives of American Art - Employment and Activities poster for the WPA's Federal Art Project - 11772.jpgEstablished in August 1935. Terminated September 1939 with instructions for states to allocate all project art work to eligible tax- supported public institutions. Reputed to have created more than 200,000  works, FAP artists created posters, murals and paintings. It was the goal of the FAP to employ out of work artists and provide art for non-federal buildings, such as schools, hospitals and libraries.

Artists wishing to be considered for the Federal Art Project  had to prove they were impoverished and had to submit samples of their work. Before they could be apply, they had to be accepted for Home Relief. If chosen for the Project, artists were paid a salary of about $24 a week.

There were three primary divisions of the project: art production, art education and art research. The primary product of the art research portion of the project was the Index of American Design,  consisting of approximately 18,000 watercolor renderings of American decorative arts objects from the colonial period through the nineteenth century.  The education component resulted in art centers, classes, lectures and exhibits around the country.  The production aspect p

Like many Federal agencies the National Park Service benefited by the work of FAP artists. (Public Domain Images Online)

roduced many of the wonderful murals that are still in existence today.

The Autry Historic Southwest Museum in Los Angeles has a collection relating to a Federal Arts Project  sponsored by the National Park Service at the Southwest Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art from 1936-1937.

You will find administrative records which include correspondence,  instructions and personnel reports. The photographic collections include field notes, file notes and the photographs themselves. A third section of the collection includes chalk and ink drawings, maps, oil paintings and watercolors depicting the collectinos and historical figures from California History.

This is just a sample of what might exist for other projects. If your family members were employed by the FAP look in local repositories for collections on the art works in the area where they lived.

The Letter - Burlingame Post Office - funded by Section of Fine Arts - Department of the Treasurry

The Letter – Burlingame Post Office – funded by Section of Fine Arts – Department of the Treasurry

The Department of the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture  (Section of Fine Arts),  was established in 1934 and administered by the Procurement Division. It continued until 1943.  Unlike the other New Deal art programs,  commissions were awarded through competitions and artists were paid a lump sum for their work. Competitions were open to all artists, regardless of economic status. Proposals were reviewed without identifying the name of the artist who had made the submission.

Find more on New Deal Arts Programs:

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Join the California State Genealogical Alliance at Jamboree 2014

The Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree is just around the corner. Once again the California State Genealogical Alliance will be a society Exhibitor (Booth #137), from Friday, June 6 to Sunday, June 8, 2014.

If your genealogical group would like to share its brochures, information on upcoming events, or lend a hand at the booth, please contact Catherine Luijt at opzoeker@gmail.com. We will incorporate your handouts as part of the display. There is no cost. Don’t miss this opportunity.

We look forward to seeing you at the conference.

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