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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FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records From the Great Depression

Cath Madden Trindle

WPA Historical Records Survey 

1935 – 1943 (NARA 69.5.6)

 The Historical Records Survey was organized under the direction of Luther H Evans as part of the Federal Writer’s Project on 16th Nov 1935.  It became an independent division of Federal Project 1 in October of 1936.  In 1939 projects were handed off to state and local governments with oversight by the WPA’s Research and Records Program, Professional and Service Division.

Never eager to recreate what someone else has done well, I suggest you read Bryan Mulcahy’s  Work’s Progress Administration (WPA) – Historical Records Survey for a good background of the Survey, a listing of its objectives and an overview of the records useful for genealogical research.  Some California materials are listed below. Most are online, click on any link to go to online description or publication.

California Historical Records Survey 
Online publications are available through
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