Friday, January 15, 2021

New Deal Art: "Morning Comes to the Range"


Above: "Morning Comes to the Range," an etching by Lyman Byxbe (1886-1980), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, or possibly WPA, ca. 1934-1935. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The WPA, a campground for American Indian children, and the thousands of New Deal stories we never hear


Above: Blue Bay Campground, in Polson, Montana. Image courtesy of Google Earth, 2021, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

The modern and false framing of the New Deal, vs. reality

In modern America, its become increasingly accepted that the New Deal was pretty much a whites-only endeavor. For example, MSNBC's Joy Reid said in August 2020: "[FDR] didn't exactly set black Americans up for success, while he was excluding them and handing out giant economic goodies to the newly created white middle-class." Many books, articles, and op-eds have also worked towards painting the New Deal as a legacy of racism. 

The whites-only framing of the New Deal ignores the employment of hundreds of thousands of African Americans in the National Youth Administration (NYA); the complete infrastructure upgrade in Puerto Rico; the Indian New Deal of self-government and land restoration; the employment of many Jewish Americans in FDR's administration; the many Asians who benefited from WPA work and art programs; and much more. There were hundreds of thousands of projects and opportunities for non-white Americans.

One of these projects was the Blue Bay Sunshine Camp in Polson, Montana - today called the "Blue Bay Campground," owned and operated by the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes. Between 1936 and 1939, the WPA landscaped the area, improved the beach, constructed about 15-20 buildings and a boat dock (see, e.g., "Among WPA Accomplishments In This Area," The Missoulian (Missoula, Montana), April 8, 1940, p. 2). And in 1940, a crew of 15 American Indians in the WPA installed a new water system ("Work Starts on Blue Bay Water System: Indian WPA Crew on Project Which May Draw Help From NYA," The Missoulian, February 11, 1940, p. 4).

During the New Deal years, the Blue Bay Sunshine Camp was used for the benefit of underprivileged and undernourished American Indian children: "The morning schedule includes rising, flag raising, breakfast, camp cleanup, arts and crafts, swimming and instruction, wash up and lunch. The afternoon program consists of library and medical period, compulsory rest periods, music, boat rides and special programs on alternate evenings, wash up and dinner" ("Indian Children Develop at Sunshine Camp," Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, Montana), September 1, 1940, p. 13).

The camp supervisor said, "In my opinion, the Blue Bay Sunshine camp is one of the grandest contributions to the welfare of young Indian children. I feel that every effort put forth has been worthwhile. It is amazing that in the short time these children are here [10 weeks] such improvement can take place physically and mentally" (see previous source).

After the camp was constructed, the NYA came in to offer even more opportunities. For example, in November 1940, 40 American Indian women, ages 17-21, took part in a camp program to produce traditional arts and crafts "to renew the arts which characterize the Indian race in previous years and to preserve the Indian culture" and also "for distribution to needy families..." The young women were also allowed to produce clothing for themselves; they managed a display room; took part in recreation activities like hikes and dances; and even received $30 per month - about $550 in 2019 dollars ("40 Indian Girls to Attend NYA Arts and Crafts Project," The Missoulian, November 21, 1940, p. 2).  

The Blue Bay Sunshine Camp is a great example of the New Deal ethos, described by FDR: "We are going to make a country in which no one is left out." That New Deal ethos--which could have been continued and improved upon--has been lost to collective amnesia, false historical framing, and the embrace of a new ethos - the ethos of extreme income, wealth, and opportunity hoarding by the 1%. (Indeed, the modern ethos of greed & selfishness is dependent upon the false framing of the New Deal as racist and unsuccessful.)


Above: The WPA-constructed administration building at Blue Bay Sunshine Camp, 1940. Photograph from the Great Falls Tribune, September 1, 1940, unknown photographer, provided courtesy of Newspapers.com, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.


Above: American Indian children at Blue Bay Sunshine Camp, 1940. Photograph from The Missoulian, March 31, 1940, unknown photographer, provided courtesy of Newspapers.com, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

New Deal Art: "Spillway, Ashokan Dam"


Above: "Spillway, Ashokan Dam," an oil painting by Arnold Wiltz (1889-1937), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Wiltz died from pneumonia at the age of 47, and when he died his wife Madeline was critically ill at the same hospital... similar to the stories we hear today of husbands and wives hospitalized together, with covid-19 ("Arnold Wiltz," Associated Press, in the Chattanooga Times, March 15, 1937, p. 7). Fortunately, Madeline (Schiff) Wiltz recovered from her illness. She was also an artist, born ca. 1885-1895, and passed away in 1966. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

An American Indian Woman in the CCC, her U.S. Marine brother, and today's Burdette Hall building


Above: Dorothy Burdette, 19-year-old Apache woman and office worker in the Civilian Conservation Corps - Indian Division, San Carlos Reservation, Arizona, 1942. Photo from Indians at Work, a publication of the Office of Indians Affairs, March 1942.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (1933-1942) was limited to male enrollees. Back then, gender roles for women usually did not include physical forestry work (a new CCC, if we ever had one, would need to include women and more minorities). However, women undoubtedly contributed much to the CCC, through important but unsung administrative jobs. One of those female administrative workers was Dorothy Burdette, a 19-year-old Apache woman at the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. The work of Burdette and others supported the 80,000+ American Indian men (nation-wide) who enrolled in the CCC and worked on projects that benefited their lands, for example, fighting forest fires, soil conservation, and infrastructure improvements. 

During her time assisting the CCC's Indian Division, Ms. Burdette was known for her "adaptability, interest and general character." Her work included typing, letter writing, purchasing, "and writing Government bills of lading." Burdette's time in the CCC inspired her to attend business school. (Indians at Work, U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, March 1942, p. 34.)

I don't know much about Ms. Burdette's post-CCC life; an Internet and newspaper archive search wasn't very fruitful. But I did discover that she was the brother of Snyder Burdette, a U.S. Marine, and the first Apache from the San Carlos Reservation to be killed in action during World War II. Snyder Burdette participated in many Pacific Theater fights, including Guadalcanal, before dying at the Solomon Islands. ("Apache Marine Dies in Action," Arizona Republic, December 18, 1942, p. 17; and "Building Named for Heroes," Arizona Republic, February 21, 1964, p. 17). 

Snyder Burdette was one of many American Indians who served, fought, and died for the United States during World War II; and today, there is a "Burdette Hall" at the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation that honors Snyder Burdette and hosts community events (see, e.g., the Instagram page for Burdette Hall). 

And what became of Dorothy Burdette? Did she go into business? Did she marry and have children? Did she play a role in her tribe's government? Is it possible she's still alive (she'd be about 97)? Every so often, someone will contact me about my blog, with more information about someone I've written about. Perhaps someone will contact me about Ms. Burdette too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Actress Peggy Jennison and the WPA play "Dragon's Wishbone"


Above: A WPA poster, advertising the WPA production of Dragon's Wishbone. This children's play was written by Joan and Michael Slane, specifically for the WPA, and was performed in Denver, Tampa, and at least one other location from about October 1938 to March 1939. The play is about a boy who keeps saying "I can't," takes a trip to the moon with his college-educated cat, and "is swished away by the 'I can't' witch and is held for torture. From then on he has many ups and downs and after a difficult struggle he regains the dragon's wishbone which is the only means by which he may return home" ("WPA Theater Will Present Comic Fantasy," The Tampa Times, February 20, 1939, p. 3). Image courtesy of George Mason University.


Above: A scene from a Tampa, Florida performance of Dragon's Wishbone. Left to right are Peggy Jennison (who played the boy's college-educated cat), Helen Mae Church, and Billy Dale. Photo by Roscoe Frey, appearing in The Tampa Tribune, February 22, 1939 edition, courtesy of newspapers.com, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.


Above: In addition to playing the educated cat in Dragon's Wishbone, Peggy Jennison starred in several other WPA productions in Florida, including Boy Meets Girl, Gallow's Gate, and Counselor at Law. Apparently, she was well known for her comedic talents. After her time in the WPA she continued acting in theater well into the 1940s (and perhaps beyond). She married her first husband, Alfred Lippe, sometime between 1936 and 1945, and the two had five children together. In 1963, she married a second time, to Frank A. Armstrong, Jr. (a retired Air Force General, and the main inspiration behind Gregory Peck's character in the 1949 movie Twelve O'Clock High). She also became the vice president of the Tampa Blueprint Company. This might be the same Tampa Blue Print Company that today celebrates over 50 years of business, and is a "certified small and woman owned minority business enterprise." Photo from The Tampa Tribune, July 28, 1936, courtesy of newspapers.com, photographer unknown, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.


Above: Peggy Jennison as Elvira, a ghost who tries to foil her husband's second marriage, in a performance of the comedy Blithe Spirit, in Birmingham, Alabama, 1946. Peggy Jennison Armstrong died on March 23, 1973, at the age of 55. She was survived by three sons, two daughters, and two grandchildren ("Armstrong," The Tampa Tribune, March 24, 1973, p. 16). May she rest in peace. Photo from The Birmingham News, October 22, 1946 edition, courtesy of newspapers.com, photographer unknown, used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

New Deal Art: "Ten Cent Movie"


Above: "Ten Cent Movie," a watercolor painting by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), created while he was in the WPA, 1939. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the T.W. Wood Gallery & Arts Center.

Monday, November 2, 2020

New Deal Art: "Cement Mixer"


Above: "Cement Mixer," a color lithograph by Jacob Kainen (1909-2001), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Kainen developed left-wing views during the Great Depression, and when asked about it, he said: "Well, in the Depression, in 1929, I used to see entire blocks evicted, people with their bedding out in the street... no place to go, their mattresses out there. So I took part in the unemployed councils. We used to take the furniture back upstairs and the police gave only half-hearted resistance. So I think that got me started. The government seemed to do nothing about [the economic problems of the working class]." Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the University of Iowa Museum of Art.