Friday, December 15, 2017

A New Deal Winter & Christmas: "Sleighing Party"

Above: "Sleighing Party," a mural study by Roland Schweinsburg (1898-?), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, ca. 1938. Very little information about Schweinsburg exists, and it's not even clear when he died (but probably between 1955 and 1963). According to the East Liverpool Historical Society (East Liverpool, Ohio), Schweinsburg lived a trauma-filled life. He may have served during World War I, his 11-year-old son, Roland, Jr., was struck and killed by a car in 1936, he developed a drinking problem which may have cost him his teaching job at the Butler Institute of American Art, and it seems he died alone. Creating and teaching art probably helped him cope with all the stress. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A closer look at the left-hand side of the mural study.

Above: A closer look at the right-hand side of the mural study.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A New Deal Winter & Christmas: "Sleigh-Racing on Euclid Avenue"

Above: "Sleigh-Racing on Euclid Avenue," a watercolor painting by Joseph B. Egan, created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), ca. 1933-1934. Very little information seems to exist about Egan, but the final report on the PWAP (1934) shows him living on Silsby Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, during the time of his New Deal work; and the Living New Deal shows that he created another PWAP painting, "Old Reservoir Walk," that now resides in the Cleveland Public Library's main branch. Image courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A New Deal Winter & Christmas: Right-Wing Grinches and New Deal Christians

Above: Right-wingers frequently remind me of the Grinch, especially around the holidays. Image from the 1966 cartoon, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!," used here for educational and non-commercial purpose.

Right-Wing Grinches

At the end of his 1939 Christmas Greeting to the Nation, President Franklin Roosevelt quoted scripture over the radio: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven... Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth... Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Today, right-wingers don't pay much attention to these types of Bible verses. Blessed are the poor? Right-wingers condemn them all the time, referring to them as "takers" and "parasites." Blessed are the meek? They just elected a braggart into the White House. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake? Well, this verse could be interpreted in a few different ways, but we know that right-wingers persecute the poor, out of a sense of self-righteousness, all the time - condemning the less fortunate as lazy people who don't practice "personal responsibility," while exalting themselves as hard-workin', God-fearin', real Americans.

The Grinch soul of the political right reared it's ugly head again recently, when the new administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, Brandon Lipps (a Trump Administration appointee), wrote about the lazy poor bogeyman: "The American dream has never been to live on government benefits... We must facilitate the transition for individuals and families to become independent, specifically by partnering with key stakeholders in the workforce development community and holding our recipients accountable for personal responsibility" ("Trump administration wants more people to work for food stamps," CNN, December 7, 2017, emphasis added).

To Mr. Lipps, I would adapt one of the Grinch cartoon songs: "You're a foul one, Mr. Lipps / You're a nasty, wasty skunk / Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk / Mr. Li-ipps / The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, stank, stunk!" (see "How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Quotes," IMDB).

Interestingly, in one of its rare moments of sobriety, the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute responded to the Trump Administration's foul attitude toward government benefits by saying, "If you really want people to have upward mobility, there has to be upward mobility to something. In a lot of places in the U.S., there are no jobs." Indeed. Recall that Mr. Lipps said, "The American dream has never been to live on government benefits." Well, neither was the American Dream ever about crap jobs with stagnant wages - which is what Republicans and neoliberal Democrats have persecuted us with for decades, via trickle-down economics. 

The Christianity of FDR and the New Deal

Above: This photograph shows FDR purchasing Christmas seals in 1939. The 1939 seal (purchased for charity and placed on mailing envelopes) shows a double-barred cross, the symbol of the National Tuberculosis Association (today's American Lung Association), and an angel. Also in the photo are artist Rockwell Kent and Mrs. Ernest Grant of the D.C. Tuberculosis Association. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In her book, The Roosevelt I Knew (1946), former U.S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins described President Roosevelt's Christian faith: "I realized that his Christian faith was absolutely simple. As far as I could make out, he had no doubts. He just believed with a certainty and simplicity that gave him no pangs or struggles... It was more than a code of ethics to him. It was a real relationship of man to God, and he felt as certain of it as of the reality of his life... He saw the betterment of life and people as part of God's work, and he felt that man's devotion to God expressed itself by serving his fellow men" (pp. 141-144).

The New Deal was created and implemented by many men and women who were influenced by the social gospel movement, a strain of Christianity that sought to incorporate Christ's teachings into all aspects of life, even government policy. Today's right-wing movement, while frequently espousing Christianity, is actually more devoted to the teachings of Ayn Rand (the real life Grinch) than Jesus Christ.

Right-wingers frequently complain that Christianity is under attack, and that there's a war on Christmas, without realizing that their constant assaults on the less-fortunate, and their constant and blind glorification of the super-wealthy, i.e., their Christian hypocrisy, poses one of the greatest threats to Christianity.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A New Deal Winter & Christmas: "Christmas in Paris"

Above: "Christmas in Paris," a crayon lithograph by Mabel Dwight (1876-1955), created while she was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1939. Dwight studied art in San Francisco and Paris and, "During the mid-1920s she produced a series of lithographs that earned her international recognition... Her main artistic interest was in people engaged in every-day pursuits or on holiday in the New York City area..." ("Mabel Dwight, Artist, Dies," Philadelphia Enquirer, September 6, 1955). Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Above: This is a fantastic hand-colored lithograph that Mabel Dwight made in 1928, around the time of her rising fame. It shows an aquarium scene in New York. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A self-portrait, created by Mabel Dwight in 1932. Dwight had no immediate survivors when she died, and there doesn't appear to be many (or any) photos of her online, so it's possible that this is the only image we have for her. When she became a WPA artist in the mid-to-late 1930s, she had either fallen on hard times (private buying of art dried up during the Depression) or she could've been hired into a supervisory or teaching position. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A New Deal Winter & Christmas: Ice Skating

Above: "Skating in Central Park," an oil painting by Saul Kovner (1904-1981), created while he was in the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, 1934. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

 Above: "Skating a Tarry Hall," a painting by Kenneth Warnock Evett (1913-2005), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, ca. 1935. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Sheldon Museum of Art.

Above: A WPA poster promoting a winter festival in Iowa. Did you know that between 1934 and 1935 the New Deal's Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) funded the construction of 887 skating rinks and the improvement of 203 existing rinks? (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the FERA, April 1, 1934 - July 1, 1935, p. 94). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: This photograph was taken in Middleton, Wisconsin, ca. 1935-1943. The description for it reads, "Dane County, view showing skating rink and warming house. Open skating period. The rink located in a town of 1,000 population provided much wholesome fun for Middleton's younger set as well as some of the adults. The rink was [supervised by] a WPA recreational worker." It's not clear whether the WPA also built the rink and/or warming house but, across the nation, WPA workers built 1,101 skating areas and improved 84 existing ones (some of these projects were probably carryovers from FERA work - see previous caption). (Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, p. 131). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: "Skating on Bonaparte's Pond," a mural study by Avery F. Johnson (1906-1990), created while he was in the New Deal's Section of Fine Arts, ca. 1940. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Above: A closer look at the left-hand side of the mural study.

Above: A closer look at the right-hand side of the mural study.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A New Deal Winter & Christmas: "December Trees"

Above: "December Trees," a lithograph by Grant Arnold (1904-1988), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1935. There seems to be very little information about Arnold on the Internet, or in newspaper archives, but a 1936 article noted that he had "considerable attention in the art world" for his lithography skills: "He avoids the slipshod liberty sometimes taken in modern graphic art. The result is a presentation of scene familiar to today's beholder. Through his craftsman-like treatment he is able to convey his sensory reaction [with] compositional clarity." The article also reports that he taught an art class in Woodstock, New York, "attended by students from all parts of the country," and "As a true craftsman he follows the entire lithographing process, making his own sketch, drawing it on the stone and doing the actual printing on his hand press" ("Grant Arnold Shows Lithographs at Little Art Shop, Woodstock," The Kingston Daily Freeman (Kingston, New York), July 10, 1936). Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A New Deal Winter & Christmas: WPA toys in Tennessee

Above: A WPA toy project in Memphis, Tennessee, September 1936. WPA workers refurbished old toys and made toys from scratch. During Christmas time, many underprivileged children received toys from the WPA. At other times of the year, the WPA operated toy lending projects. All of these projects were win-win-win policies: (1) Unemployed people had jobs, (2) landfill space was saved by recycling old toys and materials, and (3) children from low-income families had more toys than they otherwise would have. Toys and play have long been recognized for their importance in childhood development. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), "Play is essential to babies, toddlers, preschool, and school-age children. Children need plenty of opportunities to play with a variety of good toys... Toys are an important part of every child’s life" ("Why This Toy?" NAEYC). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: A closer look at the WPA Toy Project sign.

Above: A WPA worker paints a merry-go-round on the Tennessee toy project. How many children had a better Christmas because of WPA workers on toy projects? We'll probably never know for sure, but it's probably in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.