Saturday, February 25, 2017

New Deal Circus, Carnival, Festival, Fair, Vaudeville and Varieties Art

Above: "Children at Play and Sport II," an oil painting by Moses Soyer (1899-1974), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1938. Soyer went on to become a very prominent artist, and his works are held in galleries across the United States. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Circus People Resting," an oil painting by Bernice Cross (1912-1996), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Cross was born in Iowa, but spent most of her professional career in Washington, DC. Her works are held in several galleries today. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "The Very Strong Man," a sculpture by Eugenie Gershoy (1901-1986), created while she was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1936-1940. According to an exhibit label, "During the late 1930s, Eugenie Gershoy began working for the Works Progress Administration in New York. A friend of hers, the artist Max Spivak, was designing a series of murals for a children’s library in Astoria, Long Island. Gershoy decided to create colorful figurines to go along with Spivak’s paintings... The library was so pleased with the work of Gershoy and Spivak, they rebuilt the space into an oval to emphasize the circus setting." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A WPA poster created in California, ca. 1936-1941. Griffith Park is in Los Angeles. The WPA's Federal Theatre Project not only performed classic drama, but also presented "marionette shows, circuses, musical comedies, light operas, Negro theater productions... foreign language productions" and more (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943, 1946, p. 65). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: "Trapeze Girl," a color lithograph by Russell T. Limbach (1904-1971), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1935. According to the Brier Hill Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, Limbach, "was the recipient of numerous awards" and "His works are held in the collections of numerous libraries and museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles Museum of Art." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Clown Elephants," a watercolor by Fuji Nakamizo (1889-1950), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1940. According to the New England Art Exchange, "Born in Japan, Nakamizo worked and exhibited widely in the United States until his death in 1950." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Russian Fair," a wood engraving on paper by Charles Surendorf (1906-1979), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935-1939. According to, Surendorf was born in Indiana, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, moved to San Francisco, and taught at Mills College in Oakland. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Side Show Ticket Taker," another oil painting by Bernice Cross (see second image in this blog post), created while she was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A WPA poster by artist Charles Verschuuren, promoting a water carnival in New York, 1936. According to his Wikipedia page, Verschuuren was a Dutch painter who moved to the United States in 1922, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II as an illustrator. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: "Amusement Park," a lithograph by Ann Nooney (1900-1964), created while she was in WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1941. According to the International Fine Print Dealers Association, "Twenty-two of [Ann Nooney's] prints are in the Works Progress Administration collection of the New York Public Library print room. Three of her prints appear as illustrations in the 'WPA Guide to New York City, 1939.'" Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Italians in Jefferson Park," an oil painting by Jerome Myers (1867-1940), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Thomas Jefferson Park is in New York City. According to his Wikipedia page, a 1923 magazine quoted Myers about his interest in depicting city life: "All my life I had lived, worked and played in the poorest streets of American cities. I knew them and their population and was one of them. Others saw ugliness and degradation there, I saw poetry and beauty..." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: "Festival," an oil painting by Daniel Celentano (1902-1980), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. An exhibition label explains, "Such street festivals, or festa, were vital social events that helped the Italian American Catholic communities of New York survive the stresses of the Depression as they had endured previous decades of poverty and oppression." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A WPA poster, created in Massachusetts, 1938. Vaudeville was a popular form of entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But Vaudeville-like shows still exist today. For example, jugglers, magicians, comedians, sword-swallowers, and theatre performers entertain crowds at Renaissance Festivals all across the country. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: A WPA poster, created in New York City, 1937. The Federal Theatre was scorned by conservatives as a "waste of taxpayer money," but millions of middle and low-income Americans enjoyed the shows for a modest fee, or even free. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: "Festival at Hamburg," a mural study for the Hamburg, Iowa Post Office, by William Edward Lewis Bunn (1910-2009), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, 1941. According to SNAC, a collaborative enterprise that includes the National Archives and the University of California, "Wiliam Edward Lewis Bunn was a designer, muralist, and painter in Muscatine, Iowa and Ojai, Calif... During the 1930s he won commissions from the Federal Department of Fine Arts [the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Works Agency] to paint murals in public buildings throughout the Midwest. He also worked as an industrial designer for Shaeffer Pen and Cuckler Steel." Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A closer look at the left-hand side of "Festival at Hamburg."

Above: A closer look at the right-hand side of "Festival at Hamburg."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

While its infrastructure falls apart, Kansas continues giving tax breaks to the wealthy... and then asks the federal government for a bailout

Above: On November 1, 1935 WPA Administrator Harry Hopkins tells reporters that Kansas Governor Alf Landon "balanced his budget in Kansas by taking money out of the hides of the needy." Today, with Sam Brownback in charge, things are even worse for Kansas. The state has taken money out of the hides of needy, handed out tax breaks to the wealthy, implemented regressive taxation on the middle-class & poor, and still has not balanced its budget. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The state of Kansas, like the rest of the nation, has poor infrastructure. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state's infrastructure a letter grade of "C-". It received especially bad grades for its bridges (D+) and its dams (D-). See 2013 Report Card For Kansas' Infrastructure

The poor grades haven't stopped Governor Sam Brownback and his Republican colleagues in Kansas from continuing their years-long policy of massive tax breaks for the rich. And they've tried every trick in the book to get their hands on some cash while maintaining those tax breaks for the rich. They've raided their highway funds, they've raided their reserve funds, they've implemented regressive taxes on the middle-class and poor (e.g., sales and cigarette taxes), they've cut education funding (and they're about to cut it some more), and so on and so on. 

More recently, Kansas has been having problems with lead-contaminated water lines and plumbing, which can cause irreparable brain damage in children. See, e.g., "Report: Nearly 70 Kansas water systems violate EPA lead rules," Kansas Health Institute, June 29, 2016.

So, with all their infrastructure problems, and with their trickle-down economics experiment a proven failure (they have a huge revenue shortfall and they've had their credit rating downgraded multiple times), they've decided to end tax breaks for the rich, right? Nope, they're going to continue on. They just voted to continue coddling the super-wealthy, and make everyone else suffer for it. Whatever it takes to please their rich donors is what they intend to do. Cut education? Check. Neglect infrastructure? Check. Impose more regressive taxation on the middle-class and poor? Check.

But here's the really funny thing (funny as in sick): "Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is hoping the federal government can rescue several critical infrastructure projects that the state can no longer afford. The Brownback administration recently sent what amounts to a wish list to President Donald Trump for inclusion in his planned infrastructure initiative. It includes... $240 million in highway and bridge projects delayed or abandoned because of the state's ongoing budget problems... [i.e., because of the state's ongoing tax breaks for the rich]," ("Brownback Asks Trump To Save Some Kansas Highway Projects," KCUR, January 26, 2017). But how is Trump going to pay for infrastructure, when he too is planning to give massive tax cuts to the wealthy?  

That's right, folks. Brownback and his fellow trickle-down tricksters wrecked their budget with gargantuan tax breaks for the rich... and now they want the rest of the country (that means YOU) to pay for the infrastructure work that they can't (or won't). Imagine the gall it takes to (a) give your rich donors massive tax cuts, (b) raid your highway fund to pay for it, and then (c) ask non-Kansans to give you cash for your highways.

wow! Wow!! WOW!!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New Deal Art: "Market"

Above: "Market," a watercolor by Robert Franklin Gates (1906-1982), created while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

New Deal Golf Courses: 1,419+ Projects

Above: "Aspects of Suburban Life: Golf," an oil painting by Paul Cadmus (1904-1999), created while he was in the New Deal's Treasury Relief Art Project, 1936. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: The description for this 1937 photograph, taken in Hartford, Connecticut, reads in part, "The Goodwin Park Golf Course - WPA has added an extra nine holes... and completed other renovations..." The Goodwin Park Golf Course is still in operation today. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA worked on 632 golf course projects (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 131). And the WPA was not the only New Deal agency to work on golf courses. For example, jobless Americans funded through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) worked on 345 golf course projects; and young Americans in the National Youth Administration worked on 442 golf course projects (statistics from their respective final reports). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: An information display at the Oakland Municipal Golf Course (Maryland). Some golf courses recognize and display their New Deal history, but I suspect that most do not. Photo by Brent McKee.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Americans didn't fight for Bernie Sanders... but he's still fighting for them, trying to strengthen and expand Social Security

Above: Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail, at Rutgers University in New Jersey, May 2016. Photo by Paige Bollman, provided courtesy of Wikipedia, and used here under the CCA-2.0 license.

Bernie Sanders drew large crowds during his 2016 run for the presidency; but it wasn't enough to overcome America's addiction to electing super-wealthy Americans into high political office. Instead of fighting for Bernie Sanders--a man who is laser-focused on helping the middle-class & poor--the middle-class & poor ended up supporting two plutocrats with deep ties to the banks that swindled the middle-class & poor just a few years before. This bizarre phenomenon was correctly and crudely summed up by comedian George Carlin years ago: "Good honest hard-working people, white collar, blue collar, doesn't matter what color shirt you have on, good honest hard-working people continue--these are people of modest means--continue to elect these rich c&cksuckers who don't give a f&ck about them. They don't give a f&ck about you... they don't care about you, at all."

It's hard to understand why Americans keep supporting people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I suppose it's a mixture of apathy, misinformation, and Stockholm Syndrome, as well as a resignation to the idea that we'll always have to chose the lesser of two evils - the idea that says "nobody else can possibly win, so I don't want to throw my vote away."

Whatever the case may be, it's pathetic. To continue supporting and voting for the super-wealthy, as they keep getting richer and we go nowhere (or even lose ground), is the height of cultural insanity. When will Americans break out of their cycle of self-destructive voting behavior? When will they stop being suckers for the rich? 

Above: In the 1950s, Republican President Eisenhower, and the Republican-controlled 83rd Congress, expanded Social Security. But in the modern era, Republicans (and corporate Democrats too) have been trying to cut and privatize Social Security, as a favor to their super-rich donors. This is one of the major differences between the democracy that existed back then and the plutocracy that exists now. Unfortunately, most Americans don't know their own history, and thus have no idea of the changed, perverted approach to Social Security that exists today. And the super-wealthy want to take full advantage of this ignorance - knowing full-well that they can make a lot of money from it (for example, by having Social Security privatized and then running a fraud on the American public). Image from personal collection.

Even though Americans failed to fight for Bernie Sanders the way they should have, he's still fighting for them. He recently introduced legislation to strengthen and expand Social Security so that middle-class & poor Americans can retire with a little peace of mind. Sanders' legislation would remove the cap on taxable income subject to Social Security withholding (currently at $127,200) for "ordinary earnings... as well as to unearned income, like capital gains and dividends..."

Sanders said: "We can expand benefits, we can extend the life of Social Security, if we have the guts to tell the millionaires and billionaires, yes, they are going to have to pay a bit more in taxes" ("Bernie Sanders Unveils Social Security Expansion Bill On The Day Millionaires Stop Paying," Huffington Post, February 16, 2017). Indeed, in this day and age, when the richest 400 Americans are enjoying record wealth, and Social Security needs more funding, and private pensions are going the way of the Dodo bird to sate the greed of super-wealthy sociopaths, it makes no sense for a person making $127,200 to pay the same amount into Social Security as a person making $3 billion.

Interestingly, in contrast to Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton hesitated on expanding Social Security (and her husband Bill wanted to privatize Social Security; and he also set the stage for Social Security benefits to be garnished for student loan debt). President Trump, for his part, and despite his campaign pledge to protect Social Security, has just chosen a man who thinks Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme to be in charge of his budget office.

Most Americans don't want Social Security to be cut. Unfortunately, their voting behavior (or lack thereof) is at direct odds with their wishes. And, as long as that's the case, the super-wealthy will continue to snicker at us - and continue to look for ways to use our ignorance for profit. Because, at the end of the day, they don't care about us... at all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The WPA and Norfolk Botanical Gardens

(All photos by Brent McKee, 2016.)

Above: A historic marker at the entrance to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens in Norfolk, Virginia. The marker explains how the Gardens began as a WPA project in 1938.

Above: As you drive into the Gardens, one of the first things you will see, to your right, is this statue, standing at the end of a large open field.

Above: The statue is called "Breaking Ground" and commemorates the African American workers (mostly women) who created this small bit of paradise for the public to enjoy.

Above: A few cobwebs need to be dusted away, but you can still see the sculptor's great attention to detail. Look closely at the life-like ear and facial features, and the texture of the shovel handle. As far as I know, this is the only large statue of a WPA worker in the United States. And it's incredible that there's only this one, given that there were 8.5 million WPA workers who built hundreds and thousands of roads, parks, airports, water mains, dams, etc., that we still use & enjoy today. To me, it seems kind of ungrateful to not commemorate their work more. But that's the way it is in America sometimes: here today, forgotten tomorrow.

Above: A closer look at the statue's information plaque.

Above: Near the statue is another information plaque, with a list of the known names of the 200 African American women (and 20 African American men - cheers to the men too!) who created the Garden.

Above: There is a walking trail around the lake at the WPA Garden. I'm envious of the people who live near the Garden; it's a great place to walk for exercise.

Above: The WPA Garden not only benefits people, but wildlife too. This little fella is catching some rays.

Above: The WPA section of Norfolk Botanical Gardens is known for its Azaleas. Unfortunately, they were not in bloom at the time I visited.

Above: This photo, from an information display at the Gardens, shows you the bright colors to expect when the Azaleas are in bloom.

Above: There are many information displays at the Gardens highlighting its WPA history. (I had to take photos of the displays at an angle because of the glare from the glossy surfaces.)

Above: A close-up of a photo on one of the information displays, showing some of the WPA workers in 1938.

Above: A surprise on the trail around the WPA Garden lake - a Redwood tree! I'm not sure if the WPA workers planted this.

Above: Sequoia sempervirens.

Above: A place to rest and enjoy some peace & tranquility at the WPA Garden. The WPA section of the Norfolk Botanical Gardens sits right next to an airport. For some, this might take away from the peace & tranquility. I actually found it kind of "neat," because it emphasizes the Garden's refuge from civilization & technology - a sort of oasis feeling (and airport sounds don't bother me that much anyway, so...).

Above: A colorful garden arrangement at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens' visitor center. I highly recommend visiting the Norfolk Botanical Garden, not just for the WPA section, but for the many other gardens and events they offer (see their website here).

Monday, February 13, 2017

New Deal Art: Valley

Above: This oil painting of a valley scene, was made by Roland Mousseau (1899-1980), while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1935. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A closer look at the truck scene, showing men pushing the lead vehicle.