Spring 2017 Newsletter

These days it’s important to remember a time when our government invested in new infrastructure, the arts, parks, the environment, and the health and welfare of the American people. Our new publication, a “Map and Guide to New Deal New York,” highlights a thousand examples of what the New Deal created in just one city. The map will make its debut next month in Manhattan at events at the Roosevelt House at Hunter College and Museum of the City of New York, both featuring leading writers and scholars of the New Deal.

In this issue, you’ll find a medley of history, news, and commentary: the cost of wooing a reluctant Congress to the New Deal; the CCC’s long-term impact in Idaho; and the prolific life of a CCC artist, Frank Cassara, who died recently at 103; and more. Thank you for your support for a new New Deal!

In this Issue:


Our New Map and Guide to New Deal New York
by Richard Walker

Two years in the making, the Living New Deal’s newest publication, a “Map and Guide to New Deal New York” highlights nearly one thousand public works throughout the five boroughs and describes 50 of the city’s notable New Deal buildings, parks, murals, and artworks. The 18 x 27 inch, multi-color, citywide map folds to pocket size. Three inset maps offer walking tours to the New Deal in Central Park, Midtown, and Downtown Manhattan. The “Map and Guide to New Deal New York” is the second map the Living New Deal has published showing the impact of the New Deal. “Guide to the Art and Architecture of San Francisco,” published in 2013, has proved popular with residents, tourists, and teachers alike.

We are grateful to the many people who guided us in selecting the New Deal sites featured on the New York map and who carefully reviewed many drafts. Special thanks for the excellent work of cartographer Molly Roy and designer Linda Herman. Two events will be held in Manhattan to celebrate the completion of the New York map. Each will feature leading New Deal historians, authors, and exhibits on New Deal history and activism.

Thurs, May 11, 6pm at Roosevelt House at Hunter College. Information and registration

Thurs, May 18, 6:30pm, Museum of the City of New York. Information and registration

The Map and Guide to New Deal New York can be purchased for $6.

Richard Walker is the director of the Living New Deal

Remembering Frank Cassara, the Last of the CCC Artists
by Kathleen Duxbury

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara
A portrait of the artist in his studio.
Photo Credit: ©Kathleen Duxbury 2010 All Rights Reserved

Frank Cassara, a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and WPA artist died on January 13 at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, two months shy of his 104th birthday. Frank’s persistence and talent earned him a place in New Deal art history. He was the last of the New Deal CCC artists.

During a 2010 interview, 97-year-old Frank and I reviewed government records detailing his enrollment as an artist in the CCC seven decades earlier, at Camp Swallow Cliff, Co. #1675-V, near Palos Park, Illinois. As Frank slowly read through the papers he looked up and said “I am starting to remember,”

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.
CCC men working in a limestone quarry. A stone crusher is in the background.

In 1934, living in Detroit and desperate for work, Frank sent a letter to the head of the Section of  Painting and Sculpture at the U.S. Treasury Department, Edward Rowan, asking about a job:

Dear Sir, It has come to my notice that the government intends to send one hundred artists to C.C.C. camps. I am greatly interested in recording camp life and would appreciate any opportunity you could give me…. Thanking you for any information you can send me, I am, yours sincerely,

Frank Cassara

My meeting with Frank turned into two afternoons of unhurried memories—vignettes of a naïve young man, out of his element; vivid descriptions of CCC work projects, the cutting and crushing of stone at a local quarry, numbers painted on the side of a truck, and life in the barracks.

Frank brought his observations to life in the oil, watercolor, and pencil drawings he made during his yearlong CCC assignment. Exempted from heavy labor, artist/enrollees spent 40 hours a week depicting life in the camps. Their artworks were shipped to the Section of Painting and Sculpture Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.
“Cattle Drive,” by Frank Cassara, 1942

After his discharge from the CCC, Frank again found himself without a job. By then, his work was known and admired by Ed Rowan and others at the Treasury Department, and in 1937 Frank was hired by the WPA’s Federal Art Project (FAP). He several  murals in Michigan, at the Thompson School in Highland Park, a water plant in Lansing, and at post offices in Detroit and Sandusky, Michigan, eventually becoming a supervisor of the FAP for the state.

During World War II, Frank served as an artist with the Army Branch of Engineers in the American and Asiatic Pacific Theater. At war’s end, he became a professor of art at the University of Michigan, where he taught for 36 years.

Frank lived to the fine old age of 103 years and 10 months. He was drawing to the end of his life. Time spent with Frank Cassara remains a highlight of my CCC Art Projects research.

Kathleen Duxbury is a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) researcher, author, and CCC baby living in New Jersey. She is the author of CCC ART – Marshall Davis – Artists of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and is currently working on the story of the art and artists who inspired the CCC statues. kathleenduxbury.com. Her blog can be found at newdealstories.com.

Reprising New Deal Fear
by Ira Katznelson

Signs of Jim Crow continued into mid-1960s

Signs of Jim Crow continued into mid-1960s
Dallas, Texas
Photo Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.

Over the course of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, the country confronted three acute sources of fear: crumbling democratic politics and liberal hopes; ever more sophisticated weaponry; and the racial structure of the Jim Crow South.

These sites of concern raised the vexing issue of whether America’s liberal democracy could govern effectively compared with the assertive energies of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Communist U.S.S.R. Many asked whether the United States would have to undergo a period of emergency rule in which uncommon powers would be delegated from Congress to the president and the executive branch. The greatest triumph of the New Deal was the absence of such steps. Of the New Deal’s many accomplishments, none was more important.

This attainment, however, should not blind us to the era’s most profound imperfection—southern political power, especially in Congress, in the age of Jim Crow. Southerners dominated the committee system in Congress, and, more broadly, served as the legislature’s main gatekeepers. Without their active consent and legislative creativity, the New Deal’s various accomplishments and policy outcomes either would not have happened or would have been quite different.

Suppressing the African-American vote

Suppressing the African-American vote
North Carolina poll tax, 1939.
Photo Credit: Russell Lee/Farm Security Administration/Library of Congress

Here lay the era’s greatest irony. The ability of Congress to refashion American liberal democracy depended on harnessing the segregated South to the majority coalition of the Democratic Party. Without the South, there could have been no New Deal. With Southern support, the New Deal could proceed, but at a cost.

Were it not for the South, the Social Security Act and the Wagner Act that underpinned union organizing, as well as the Fair Labor Standards Act that guaranteed a minimum wage and a 40-hour work week would also have included farmworkers and maids, the jobs most African-Americans in the South performed. Were it not for the South, the United States would not have had a military draft before Pearl Harbor (peacetime conscription passed the House of Representatives by a 203-202 vote in July 1941, with nearly unanimous Southern support). President Truman’s 1947 veto of the Taft-Hartley Act restricting labor rights would not have been overridden, but for the South.

Water cooler: Drinking water reserved for "Colored," Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1939.

Water cooler
Drinking water reserved for “Colored,” Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1939.
Photo Credit: Russell Lee, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.

The application of Southern power helped fashion a new national state that possessed two distinctive faces: a domestic procedural government in which the federal government was defined less by purpose than by process; and a global crusading state, fighting dictatorships with hardly any procedural constraints.

These two aspects formed a practical and symbolic arrangement that continues to define the United States, and we remain challenged by the problems it poses for liberal democracy today—polarized interests and recurring crises of confidence in public authority on the domestic side; and highly autonomous executive power on the global side that sometimes generates cruel and protracted violent adventures.

In underscoring the price exacted by the role the South played in Congress, my aim is not to diminish the New Deal’s accomplishments. Rather, my lasting admiration is tempered by the recognition that the institutions, conventions, and habits that the New Deal molded continue to demand thoughtful choices in a world scored by fear.

Dr. Ira Katznelson is Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University and president of the Social Science Research Council. His most recent book, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (Liveright 2013) was awarded the Bancroft Prize in History. Dr. Katznelson is a member of the LIving New Deal Advisory Board.

Building Bridges, Not Walls
by Harvey Smith

Birdseye View, 1936

Birdseye View, 1936
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge under construction
Photo Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Last November, following the election of Donald Trump, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution declaring the City’s commitment to values of multiculturalism and tolerance.

RESOLVED, That no matter the threats…,San Francisco will remain a Sanctuary City; we will not turn our back on the men and women from other countries who help make this city great, and who represent over one third of our population. This is the Golden Gate—we build bridges, not walls.

In that spirit, the Living New Deal will host “Building Bridges, Not Walls” two concurrent exhibitions featuring art and performance celebrating the role of immigrants in building the Bay Area’s bridges, and the unity these iconic structures represent.

Bridge workers on catwalk

Bridge workers on catwalk
San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
Photo Credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, both completed during the Great Depression, were designed by immigrants: Ralph Modjeski, a Polish immigrant, was chief engineer on the Bay Bridge. Leon Moisseiff, a Latvian immigrant, was the lead designer of the Golden Gate Bridge. Both bridges had been largely constructed by the children of immigrants, including legendary ironworker Al Zampa, whose parents came from Italy. Zampa was one of the first workers to survive a fall from the Golden Gate Bridge, making him a charter member of the Half Way to Hell Club, a fraternity of men who had fallen and landed in the bridge’s safety nets. Thirty-five men died working on the Bay and Golden Gate bridges.

A starting point for the exhibit is the twenty steel rivets that the Living New Deal obtained when the original Bay Bridge, which opened in 1936, was dismantled, having been replaced by a new eastern span.

Miss Berkeley, International Queen, and Miss Oakland hold a chain barrier to the bridge at the opening ceremony.

Miss Berkeley, International Queen and Miss Oakland
Opening of San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, 1936
Photo Credit: Courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

The themes of immigrants, diversity, and internationalism are symbolized by the bridges, that connect the Bay Area’s diverse communities and give the region its common identity.

In July, “Building Bridges, Not Walls,” a celebration of these bridges and the people who built them, will open at the History Center at San Francisco Main Library. A companion exhibit featuring Bay Area artists, photographers, and poets will be held at the historic Canessa Gallery in San Francisco’s North Beach.

For more information:  Harvey Smith [email protected]

Bridge worker Alfred Zampa

Bridge worker Alfred Zampa
Golden Gate Bridge 50th Anniversary
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Harvey Smith is an advisor to the Living New Deal.

“CCC in Idaho” Goes Digital
by Ivar Nelson

CCC men in Idaho—Preparing dynamite holes for the Salmon River road, 1935

CCC men in Idaho
Preparing dynamite holes for the Salmon River road, 1935
Photo Credit: K.D. Swan

The Depression’s economic derailment dogged Idaho’s rural and urban areas alike. Farmers struggled against low prices, heat, drought, and insects; home and farm mortgages went unpaid; banks closed; teachers were let go, and millworkers were laid off as demand for timber collapsed.

Idaho had the most CCC enrollees per capita and the second greatest number of enrollees of any state in the nation, facts that drew historian Patricia Hart of the University of Idaho and me to study the impact the CCC had on the state.

Between 1933 and 1942, more than 80,000 men were enrolled in the CCC in Idaho, serving in 423 companies located in 270 camps. The CCC men worked with national and state forests and parks, soil conservation agencies, national grazing programs, and federal reclamation projects. Enrollees were sent to every part of the state, fighting fires, building roads, stringing the first telephone lines, constructing ranger stations and ski areas, planting trees, riprapping irrigation canals, and taking on blister rust, a fungus that threatened Idaho’s forests.

CCC Ripprapping an irrigation ditch

CCC Ripprapping an irrigation ditch
Minidoka Project near Burley, Idaho

The economic impact on communities and the individual enrollees was tremendous. Many rural towns managed to survive the Depression by selling food and goods to the CCC camps and by the CCC employing local men.

The federal government’s aggressive promotion of the Corps offered a wealth of documentation for our research. Newspapers of the day, large and small, carried national stories about the C’s and wrote their own. Many enrollees kept diaries and wrote letters home. Some had small, lightweight Kodak cameras and recorded their experiences.

Boxing at the CCC Carnival

Boxing at the CCC Carnival
McCall, Idaho, 1933
Photo Credit: K.D. Swan

Our three years of research brought together thousands of items from archives, museums, libraries, and personal collections— articles, books, government reports, camp magazines, manuscripts, photographs, films, letters, and oral histories—that are being scanned for an open-access, digital portal at the University of Idaho Library. The research revealed that many of the public policy discussions that challenge us today—wilderness versus development; forest and grazing management; land-use planning— mirror the challenges of the 1930s.

The collection, “CCC in Idaho” will be online late this summer.

 
CCC men built the Fenn Ranger Station on the Selway River

Built by the CCC
Fenn Ranger Station on the Selway River
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest

Ivar Nelson is the former director of the University of Idaho Press. He and Patricia Hart, a professor and interim director of the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho, are collaborating on a book about the impact of the CCC. If you have information or materials about the CCC in Idaho, please contact, [email protected]

Art Review: American Painting of the 1930s
by Richard Walker

Art of the 1930s may finally be coming back into fashion—something that New Deal aficionados can celebrate.

It has been a long time since a major exhibit of art from the 1930s has been mounted, but curators at the Art Institute of Chicago rectified that last summer with an installation, originally titled “After the Fall: American Painting in the 1930s.” I saw the exhibit this winter at Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris. It has since moved to London’s Royal Academy of Arts, where it will be on display until June 4, 2017.

The exhibit is extremely well done in terms of the selection of the 45 paintings and the explanatory text on the walls and in the catalogue. The latter provides a succinct introduction to the Great Depression and how Americans reacted to it. The exhibition includes works by such noted artists Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, and Grant Wood, whose iconic American Gothic had never left North American shores before. But the exhibit goes well beyond, taking in lesser-known painters of remarkable talent, such as Alexander Hogue and Paul Sample.

American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930

American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930
Grant Wood used his sister and his dentist as models for a farmer and his daughter

The predominant Social Realist and American Regionalist styles of the time were largely eclipsed by postwar Abstract art in the United States and regarded as backward by European art historians fixated on the early modernism represented in Cubism, Constructivism and Surrealism.

The international audiences viewing the exhibit at the l’ Orangerie were clearly delighted by this refreshing look at a kind of American art they rarely see and the excellence of the works on display. Surprising were the number of early experiments in Abstraction as well as some fiercely political paintings, like Philip Guston’s Bombardment and Joe Jones’ American Justice.

From the perspective of the New Deal, however, there were some glaring absences. An exhibit devoted solely to framed paintings necessarily omits the mural art characteristic of the age, when artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, Ben Shahn, and Aaron Douglas were probably better known for their public murals than their canvases. Another is that while FDR’s programs are briefly mentioned, and the hiring of artists by federal programs noted in passing, the term “The New Deal” does not appear in the exhibit, as far as I could see. Talk about historical amnesia! This is, alas, all too typical of art historians and curators, who are taught to treat art as something apart from politics and social life.

Evidently, our task at the Living New Deal is not just to uncover a buried civilization of public works, but to revive the memory of all the artwork created under the auspices of the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s.

 

Richard Walker is the director of the Living New Deal