In 2005, thirty years after the death of my father, George Duxbury, his treasured photo albums resurfaced; fragile books containing a photographic record made during his 1938-1941 service in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in New York, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
The location of my father’s first CCC camp, as luck would have it, was three hours away, at Gilbert Lake State Park in the Catskill Mountains—a park created by CCC labor that also had a campground and CCC museum. Believing all my CCC questions would be answered, my husband, Gardner Yeaw, and I loaded our recently purchased 1978 Bluebird Wanderlodge motor home, hooked up our tow vehicle, packed the albums, and set out for Laurens, New York on our maiden voyage.
We were impressed by our first visit to a CCC-planted forest and park, but surprised to learn that the Hartwick CCC camp where my father had lived was long forgotten. It was suggested we visit the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
What began as a quest to learn more about my father and the CCC may have remained at an uncomplicated level had it not been for the discovery of a candid black-and-white photograph of a young artist taken at a New York Adirondack CCC camp.
His name was Hans Held and the chance discovery of his portrait, along with his 28-foot CCC mural we later found displayed at the Adirondack Museum, would dramatically change the focus and direction of our research travels and introduce us to a quiet part of American art history—the CCC art project.
Begun under the Public Works of Art program (PWAP) and lasting from 1934–1937, the CCC art program was administered by a special section within the Treasury Department. Some 300 young artists were sent to CCC camps around the country to make a pictorial record of life and work in the Corps, considered the greatest conservation movement in American history. Artists were instructed to send their watercolors, oils, drawings and sculptures to Washington D.C. The Treasury Department allocated the art to various government agencies, federal buildings, including Congressional offices, schools, and CCC camps for display.
Over the years many works were removed to storage and forgotten; others went missing. Some remained in place but lost their provenance as part of the legacy of the CCC.
Hoping that these artworks might be identified and appreciated by the public has led Gardner and me on an 80,000-mile road trip through the lower 48 states. Our research is focused on creating a readable and accurate record of the program and artists, and tracking down CCC artworks. Happily, circumstances at times have aligned to allow for the proper identification, procurement, recognition, and public display of several pieces.
We are fortunate and extremely grateful to the many archives, museums, universities, libraries, societies, clubs, organizations, other researchers, CCC artists’ families, and many wonderful people who share our appreciation and quest for knowledge of this little known New Deal art program. Our hope is that any and all CCC art will be protected, treasured, and valued for the history it depicts and ultimately be publicly displayed. This would honor what was clearly the original intent when this quiet part of American art history, the CCC art program, was personally approved by President Roosevelt.