Wednesday, June 14, 2017
New Deal Fairy Tale, Nursery Rhyme, and Story Art (7/10): Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox
Above: "Clearing Tacoma Flats," a linocut by Richard V. Correll (1904-1990), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1940. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.
Above: "Making San Juan Island," another WPA linocut by Richard V. Correll, 1940. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.
Above: "Paul Bunyan Sleeping," another WPA linocut by Richard V. Correll, 1940. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.
Above: A mural at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, showing Paul Bunyan, Babe the Blue Ox, and two workers. This mural, part of a larger set, was created by James Watrous (1908-1999), while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, ca. 1933-1934. Image courtesy of the University of Wisconsin.
Above: A stained glass mural of Paul Bunyan and Babe, at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, created in 1938 by WPA artist Virginia Darce. The mural was restored in 2011, after suffering water damage ("Hillsboro mural artist assists with historic Timberline project," The Oregonian, January 4, 2011). Photo courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith and the Library of Congress.
A Mysterious Paul Bunyan and Babe Statue
The Paul Bunyan and Babe statue you see above is a bit of a mystery, but it might very well be a New Deal art project. It was sculpted by Oilver L. Barrett (1892-1943), a professor at the University of Oregon, ca. 1935. Piecing together various sources of information, it appears this sculpture may have been part a years-long ambition of Barrett's to create a larger version, and have it placed at a public venue.
Barrett is listed on the Wikipedia page "List of Federal Art Project artists." He also participated in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project (see, Public Works of Art Project, Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Federal Emergency Relief Administrator, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934, p. 85). Additionally, on February 19, 1937, The Eugene Guard newspaper reported that a Federal Art Project official visited the University of Oregon and, among other things, praised Barrett's statue "Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox," and recommended it be placed somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, to attract worldwide visitors. Does this mean that, by 1937, a full-scale version of the statue had been completed? It's unclear, but on March 1, 1945, in an article about an exhibition of Barrett's work, a journalist for The Eugene Guard wrote: "Although Barrett's sudden death prevented his realizing his greatest ambition--to depict the figure of Paul Bunyan, hero of the logging industry--his work, nevertheless, was shown in an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City before his death" ("Barrett Sculpture Exhibited"). Presumably, the journalist meant: "to depict the figure of Paul Bunyan" in a prominent public place.
Professor Barrett died a sudden death in 1943, at the age of 50. In a tribute to his life, it was noted that he was an animal lover, and his art studio was always filled with homeless cats and dogs ("Oliver Laurence Barrett," The Eugene Guard, August 9, 1943, p. 3).