March 12, 2008

Native artists in the New Deal

In Santa Fe, on the Trail of New Deal ArtistsNew York was hardly the only center of New Deal artistic activity. Another hub was northern New Mexico, where more than a hundred artists—including prominent American Indians—signed on to the government payroll. Although scholarship on their involvement has been spotty at best, local curators say that is beginning to change.

“When we look back at the Depression and that time frame, I think we have images of soup lines in New York and factory workers put out of jobs,” said Shelby Tisdale, director of the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe. “A lot of people don’t even realize that there were Native American artists involved in the New Deal.”

Her museum has organized a group show, running April 5 through Aug. 31, to help set the record straight. On exhibit will be art objects created by American Indians in 1934 under the Public Works of Art Project, a predecessor of the Works Progress Administration.
Some numbers:In New Mexico alone, she ultimately found 65 murals or mural-size paintings, 650 easel paintings, 10 sculptures and hundreds of American Indian and Hispanic crafts created under the New Deal.

“And that’s just what remains in public buildings,” she said.

In addition, she has identified 30 American Indians who were active during New Deal programs in the state and thinks there were others who were not documented. This research fed her book on the subject, “Treasures on New Mexico Trails: Discover New Deal Art and Architecture,” published in 1995.

No comments: