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,”
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,
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.
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.
Thank you for sharing. Frank was a wonderful artist and a beautiful soul.
I was a printmaking student of Frank. We stayed friends, for 37 years until his passing. He was a gentle person who was mentally sharp up until I last visited him a week before his death. In 2002, we held an art exhibition of his early social realism paintings in Birmingham, MI. I own a number of his pieces of art, as well as his small intaglio press. I have 6 steel faced intaglio plates of Frank’s, depicting The University of Michigan landmark buildings which I am printing on his press and making available for purchase.
I had a great opportunity of meeting Frank 32 years, we became friend when he was refurbishing the murals at the Water Plant where I worked i have 5 of his pieces of Art, two are (First State) im not sure what that means. I am a Jeweler , at that time I had made a gold ring for Frank and his wife, he told me he wouldn’t take any money for the art piece I have, he said the only he would do it, is a piece of my art for his. That was special to me.
I just googled Mr. Cassara’s name, as there has been a color drawing of my father, Andrew Genzoli, hanging on the wall of his old office in Ferndale, California, since I was born. I never thought much of it, until today, as I’ve been clearing the house for my 100 year old mother who now lives with us. I took the picture down and decided to research the artist, as he had obviously been in the Army with my father. It’s signed, “Cassara”, “Manila 1945”. My father was a journalist for the Army, a historian who would become well known years later for coining the name “Bigfoot”, and I have a feeling that he and Mr. Cassara would probably have been great friends while serving together. I have no idea whether they stayed in touch. My father passed away in 1983, so much of his personal papers are long gone by now, but I’m going to keep my eyes open for anything further with regards to their time spent together and take time to look at other paintings and drawings done by Mr. Cassara.