Memories of Photographer Rondal Partridge (1917-2015)

Ron Partridge

Ron Partridge
Bedford Gallery Exhibition, 2010
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

Ron Partridge was still working in his Berkeley, California, dark room well into his 90s. This brought his life full circle. Ron began his career in the darkroom, assisting his mother, photographer Imogen Cunningham. Ron went on to assist both Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange during the 1930s. Lange’s influence can be seen in Ron’s photographs for the National Youth Administration (NYA), a job that sent him throughout California chronicling the lives of young people on the brink of World War II.

Over the course of his long career as a photographer and filmmaker, Ron’s work embraced landscapes, people, objects, and architecture.

Photo of Dorothea Lange at work, 1936

Dorothea Lange, 1936
Photo of Dorothea Lange at work
Photo Credit: Rondal Partridge

In 2010, I co-curated an exhibit of New Deal art at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, California. I made a point of inviting the few living New Deal artists that I knew of. It was a short list: Photographer Rondal Partridge, sculptor Milton Hebald, and WPA and Disney artist Tyrus Wong, (now 104 years old!)

Ron and I drove to the opening reception in my classic Plymouth Valiant. He clearly appreciated the attention that he and his work received that night. I continued to visit Ron after that exhibition. He was always excited about his latest project. In recent years he focused on framing dried plants—preserving the unique quality of each specimen. They were studies in form, some in partial states of decay. He relished the second-hand frames he collected for this work.

Ron Partridge and Harvey Smith

Ron Partridge and Harvey Smith
New Deal art exhibition, Bedford Gallery, 2010
Photo Credit: Susan Ives

Anyone who knew Ron knew that he had strong views, a sense of irreverence, and a wonderful sense of humor. Like others I’ve met who worked for the New Deal, Ron was infused with the spirit of that time—a social conscience, ingenuity, and a drive to create—seemingly indifferent to fame and fortune. Ron passed away on June 19. He and his New Deal generation will be missed.

Harvey Smith is an advisor to the Living New Deal.

Youth on the Industrial Front

(18:12) b/w sound
NYA boys learn to use machine tools at various residence centers in Illinois. The boys operate lathes and milling machines, learn to weld, make incubators in a sheet metal shop, pour steel into molds, do blacksmithing work, and attend classes in auto mechanics, mechanical drawing, and radio repairing. Includes views of the meals served and of recreational facilities at the centers (libraries, sports contests, and billiard tables).

Alamo Grounds Improvements – San Antonio TX

Multiple New Deal agencies were involved with improving the grounds at the Alamo.

A timeline mural board on the west side of the Alamo Museum indicates that “depression-era public works projects” built the walls that now encompass the grounds of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. The Alamo is regarded as the “Shrine of Texas Liberty” due to its location of the famous battle within its perimeter during the Texas Revolution; however, it was originally the site of Mission San Antonio Valero which was moved here in 1724 after several previous locations in the area were not suitable.

The New York Times reported: “Unsightly buildings which have stood for years adjoining the Alamo to the south are being demolished, and the property on which they stood will be converted into the Alamo State Park. The work of razing the buildings and beautifying the park is being paid for by CWA funds.”

The caption from a photograph in the September 1934 San Antonio Light reveals that FERA built the Roman-style stone arches that now run south from the façade of the Alamo chapel and built the garden area behind the chapel. Further research indicates that WPA and NYA workers built a wall around the perimeter of the grounds, the museum building, and demolished several old buildings on the property including the old central fire station where the DRT Meeting Hall would be built (this was previously submitted). Some sources suggest that restoration of the acequia that runs through the property may have been funded with federal funds.

Dog-trot Cabin Replica, Witte Museum – San Antonio TX

This replica of a dog-trot style cabin (two rooms with a breezeway between them, sharing a common roof) on the grounds of the Witte Museum was constructed in 1939 through the efforts of the National Youth Administration. Thirty youth were involved in the project.

The dog-trot cabin was very common in Texas and throughout the Southeastern U.S.. The cabin is situated perpendicular to the San Antonio River and features changing exhibits representative of the Texas Frontier in the two rooms.

Brackenridge Park Bridge Improvements – San Antonio, Texas

This lenticular truss bridge was moved to historic Brackenridge Park in 1925. It had been constructed in 1890 on St. Mary’s Street over the San Antonio River by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of East Berlin Connecticut. After a devastating flood in 1921 the city under took a massive rebuilding of the city’s downtown infrastructure and the bridge was relocated to the park rather than being demolished. The plaque on the bridge indicates that the National Youth Administration did work in 1937-38, but it is not known if they worked on the bridge or on the adjacent retaining walls.

Starter House, Historic Brackenridge Park Golf Course – San Antonio TX

This stone building on the edge of the Historic Brackenridge Golf Course in San Antonio, Texas is attributed the work of the National Youth Administration. The NYA completed many projects in the park.

The registration form for the park’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places refers to the construction of a starter house, caddy house, tee boxes and drinking fountains on the golf course by the NYA. The form states that only the starter house is standing at this time.