If I were asked to state the great objective which Church and State are both demanding for the sake of every man and woman and child in this country, I would say that that great objective is "a more abundant life."
Delano Roosevelt, 1933
What would New Mexico be without
its wind-worn mesas, without the scent of dew-spotted sage at dawn
on a summer morning? That same question might be asked of some of
New Mexico’s other simple, yet spectacular, hallmarks: The
murals, etchings, pots and textiles that grace many of the
state’s post offices, libraries, hospitals, courthouses and
Such works of art grace "common" walls because
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized that the loss of
hope and inspiration was as devastating as barren fields and
defaulted loans during the Great Depression. From 1933 to 1943, as
part of the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration (WPA)
employed artists to train unemployed men and women to create art
that would represent the lives of everyday Americans — and
hang, not in art galleries or private collections, but in municipal
buildings where they could be enjoyed by rich and poor alike.
Although artists across the country participated in the
program, in A More Abundant Life: New Deal Artists and
Public Art in New Mexico, Jacqueline Hoefer focuses
solely on New Mexico — a state as well-known for its
crippling poverty as its Indian, Spanish and Anglo arts traditions.
Hoefer explains how the program worked in New Mexico, where, during
the teens and twenties, Taos and Santa Fe had become meccas for
artists. By the 1930s, those artists, like most New Mexicans, were
hungry: Only those on welfare could be hired as WPA teachers, and
though mural-painting was initially the most popular medium,
craftsmen also taught furniture-making, tin work and architectural
drawing. And it wasn’t just "artsy" towns that benefited:
Program administrators set up art centers in such far-flung
communities as Gallup, Las Vegas, Melrose and Roswell, giving
public lectures, offering classes and, as one Taos painter said,
making "art okay for everybody."
includes three interviews — with Gene Kloss, a University of
California graduate who moved to Taos and taught etching, Eliseo
Rodriguez, a Santa Fe native born in 1915, who left his job digging
a sewer line to become an artist, and Pablita Velarde. Born and
raised at Santa Clara Pueblo, Velarde worked for the WPA at
Bandelier National Monument, bringing the archaeological ruins
alive with her paintings of pueblo life.
world of slashed social programs and anemic arts endowments, it
seems unthinkable that the federal government once trained people
to carve wooden saints, revive the art of Navajo weaving, and paint
scenes of rural life. But in the 1930s, Roosevelt had the vision to
create a program that not only placed food upon peoples’
tables, but instilled a sense of pride in the artists it trained
and the communities it benefited. Despite poverty and despair,
beauty was allowed to flower and bear fruit, to spread its roots
across the state, reaching into such unlikely places as the public
schools of the eastern plains, the Raton City Hall and the Deming
A More Abundant Life: New
Deal Artists and Public Art in New
195 pages, softcover $45. Sunstone Press, 2003
Food on every plate, art on every wall
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