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Thursday, November 15, 2012

The WPA and a Little Local History

In the novel Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara there is a lot of discussion about the WPA – Works Project (or Progress) Administration. Several characters in the book variously discuss trying to find jobs as artists in this relief program set up during the Great Depression. Artists were hired to create murals, depict local histories, or simply to beautify local areas. They also employed many laborers to construct various building projects. According to Wikipedia “almost every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency, which especially benefited rural and western areas”. These little tidbits brought to mind something I remember my librarian at my middle school telling me – there is a beautiful set of murals in the old middle school library (where I used to attend) that depict the life and time of the American spy during the revolution, Nathan Hale. He was a local hero in our town because he had lived in East Haddam and taught school there prior to the Revolution. I remember her mentioning that these murals were created as a part of the WPA. So now about ten years after that early discussion off I went to find out more about these murals.

The first problem was that I didn’t know the artist’s name, so it made it difficult to Google anything. Secondly, the school was closed about 3-4 years ago when a new school was built, so no one is in there currently that I could contact to get me some information. However, with a little digging, I did find a photo online with the artist’s name, W. Langdon Kihn. He is known for his works about Native Americans and many of his paintings are on display in art galleries. He also lived in my hometown for many years. Below it was something a little more interesting, FERA Project 1935. Now, the next logical question was what is FERA, because I thought this was a WPA project.

Apparently FERA, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, was a precursor to the WPA. It existed from 1933-1935. Like the WPA, they too employed unskilled workers in local and state government jobs as well as employing artists. So my librarian either had the wrong program, or more likely I remembered it incorrectly, but my local school’s murals were created because of these programs.

Below are some of the images that I have found of the murals from various sources (please be advised that none of these pictures are my own). There is currently an effort to try to save these murals because as the building stands empty with no plans in the works for its usage, these important local artworks are being exposed to a non-climate controlled environment. Apparently they are reporting it will cost more than $20,000 to take down the canvasses properly, or $8,000 to do high resolution digital photos of the works to then print on canvas to keep in the historical society. I really hope that they can save these murals because they have always had a place in my heart and are an important piece of local history. If you are interested, you can read more about the local effort to save the murals and how to donate to the cause.

Isn’t it amazing what a book can make you learn about a related topic?

nathan hale birth placeBirthplace of Nathan Hale, Coventry, CT
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

nathan hale
General Scenes from the Life of Nathan Hale
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

nathan hale school house
The Nathan Hale School House – a local landmark
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

nathan hale captured
The Capture of Nathan Hale by British Troops
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

nathan hale execution
Nathan Hale being Led to Execution for Spying
Photo Credits: Kevin Hotary for the Reminder News

w langdon kihn
Plaque with Artist’s Name: W. Landon Kihn, FERA Project, 1935
Photo Credits: David Winakor


Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court

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