Archives Library Information Center (ALIC)

New Deal Arts/ Culture

Information on primary and secondary sources available through NARA that deal with topics of New Deal arts projects and links to related web sites.


Contents:     "Class in violin instruction under the direction of the WPA Federal Music Project in New York City," 1936. (FDR Presidential Library NLR-PHOCO-A-53227(1922))

Selected bibliography

* Available in the library at Archives I.

WPA Federal Theater Project in New York: theater workers," ca. 1935. (FDR Presidential Library NLR-PHOCO-A-48491(256))

Banks, Ann and Robert Carter. Survey of Federal Writers’ Project manuscript holdings in state depositories. Washington: American Historical Association, 1985. ix, 27 p.
Z1247 B3
Guide for researchers interested in the Federal Writers’ Project. Lists materials available in various archives. Organized by state.

Bentley, Joanne. Hallie Flanagan: a life in the American theatre. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. xviii, 436 p.
PN2287 .F53 B46 1988
The story of Flanagan’s life, written by her stepdaughter. Based on diaries and papers as well as personal memories. Includes information on Flanagan’s early life and career, her work in the Federal Theatre Project, and her life after the project’s termination. Uses NARA records from RG 69.

Brewer, Jeutonne. The Federal Writers’ Project: a bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1994. xv, 160 p.
Z1247 .B74 1994
Guide for researchers interested in the Federal Writers’ Project. Provides a bibliography of works both by and about the FWP, a list of archives holding related materials, a listing of authors involved in the project, and a list of recordings associated with the FWP.

Browder, Laura. Rousing the nation: radical culture in depression America. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998. viii, 217 p.
PS228 .R34 B76 1998
Considers the factors that led to radical writers finding both a voice and an audience in 1930s America. Chapters five and six deal with the "Living Newspapers" associated with the Federal Theatre Project.

Bustard, Bruce. A New Deal for the arts. Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1997. vii, 133 p.
NX735 .B87 1997
Based on a 1997 exhibit at the National Archives. Provides background on federal arts programs, which provided work for unemployed musicians, dancers, actors, painters, photographers, sculptors, and various other artists and educators as part of the New Deal.

Buttitta, Tony and Barry Witham. Uncle Sam presents: a memoir of the Federal Theatre, 1935-1939. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982. xv, 249 p.
PN2270 .F43 B8
First-hand account by Buttitta of his experiences working as a reporter for The Federal Theatre Magazine and as a press agent for several Federal Theatre Project productions. Includes information about certain key events for the FTP, including the controversy surrounding The Cradle Will Rock.

Christensen, Erwin. The Index of American Design. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950. xviii, 229 p.
NK1403 .C5
Looks at the Index of American Design, a New Deal art project whose goal was to create a record of American art, particularly American folk art and crafts. Contains information about the project and selected examples of items featured in the Index of American Design.

Craig, E. Quita. Black drama of the Federal Theatre era: beyond the formal horizons. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1980. x, 239 p.
E185.82 .C7*
Explores the contributions of African-American dramatists under the New Deal. Looks at influences affecting African-American dramatists of the period, phenomenon and themes particular to their work, and the legacy of the Negro units of the Federal Theatre Project. Uses NARA records from RG 69.

DeHart-Mathews, Jane. The Federal Theatre, 1935-1939: plays, relief, and politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967. xii, 342 p.
PN2266 .M33
Study of the Federal Theatre Project. Considers the Federal Theatre Project not only as a relief measure but also in its role as a national institution. Uses federal records from RG 69 and 233 and resources in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.

DeNoon, Christopher. Posters of the WPA. Los Angeles: The Wheatley Press, 1987. 175 p.
NC1807 .U5 D413 1987
Historical overview of the Poster Division of the WPA. Provides information about and examples of posters produced by the WPA for various New Deal programs.

Flanagan, Hallie. Arena. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1940. ix, 475 p.
PN2266 .F46
Flanagan’s personal account of the history of the Federal Theatre, following the termination of the project. Provides details on the activities of the Federal Theatre and the reception it received in various areas as well as information on the controversy surrounding the project and its eventual termination.

Fleischhauer, Carl and Beverly Brannan, ed. Documenting America, 1935-1943. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. xi, 361 p.
E806 .D616 1988
Looks at fifteen photo series associated with the Photographic Section, which fell under the Resettlement Administration, the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information at various points from 1935-1943. Provides details on the history of and records concerning each series and, when available and pertinent, information such as the motivation of the photographer and director, techniques and equipment used, and the series' relevance to government policy. Uses photos from the FSA-OWI Collection held in the Prints and Photographs division at Library of Congress.

Harris, Jonathan. Federal art and national culture: the politics of identity in New Deal America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. xi, 236 p.
N8838 .H37 1995
Considers the origins, activities, and termination of the Federal Art Project. Looks at the unique conditions by which art and politics interacted and sometimes clashed under the New Deal, as well as the broader implications of this for American culture and society.

Hirsch, Jerrold. Portrait of America: a cultural history of the Federal Writers’ Project. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c2003. xii, 293 p.
E175.4 .W9 H57 2003*
The author provides a cultural history of the Federal Writers’ Project, discussing the Project’s interest in American culture and diversity, and the reception with which this approach was received by Congress, the writers, and the public.

Kalfatovic, Martin R. The New Deal fine art projects: a bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1994. lxxii, 504 p.
Z5961 .U5 K36 1994
Includes a chronology of events key to New Deal fine arts projects, a list of related acronyms and abbreviations, a historical overview of the programs, and an annotated bibliography of related sources. Appendices provide additional information about key figures in the programs, locations and exhibitions of New Deal art, and other related information. Bibliography is indexed by author and subject.

Mangione, Jerre. The dream and the deal: the Federal Writers’ Project, 1935-1943. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972. xvi, 416 p.
E175.4 .W9 M3*
Account of the Federal Writers’ Project, based largely on interviews and correspondences with those involved with the project. Explores many of the social and political forces affecting writers of the FWP and the project itself. Uses NARA records from RG 69.

Marling, Karal Ann. Wall-to-wall America: a cultural history of post-office murals in the Great Depression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982. xiv, 348 p.
ND2608 .M3
Looks at the various themes affecting New Deal art by considering case studies of murals completed under the Section of Fine Arts. Uses New Deal post office art to provide insight into how art interacted with society during the Great Depression. Uses NARA records from RG 121.

McDonald, William F. Federal Relief Administration and the arts. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1969. xiv, 869 p.
NX735 .M3
Looks at the origins, operations, and ideology of each of the branches of Federal One, the Federal Writers’ Project, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Music Project, the Federal Art Project, and the Historical Records Survey, as well as considering governmental arts projects more generally. Uses NARA records from RG 69.

McKinzie, Richard D. The New Deal for artists. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973. xii, 203 p.
N8838 .M3
Explores the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture or Section of Fine Arts and the WPA’s Federal Art Project. Highlights similarities and differences between the two agencies and explores the social and political forces that affected governmental patronage during the Great Depression. Uses records from RG 69 and 121 as well as materials from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.

Melosh, Barbara. Engendering culture: manhood and womanhood in New Deal public art and theater. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991. xiii, 297 p.
NX504 .M44 1991
Explores ideas of gender during the New Deal by considering representations of gender in the work of the Federal Theater Project and the Treasury Section of Fine Arts. Looks at the portrayal of men and women and the reception such ideas received. Uses NARA records from RG 121.

Natanson, Nicholas. The black image in the New Deal: the politics of FSA photography. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1992. xii, 305 p.
E185.6 .N245 1992*
Explores portrayals of African-Americans in the photos of the Farm Security Administration and the political and social forces behind these representations. Looks at the work of FSA photographers in general as well as exploring three case studies, photo series by Ben Shahn, Arthur Rothstein, and Russell Lee. Uses National Archives resources from RG 16, 33, 69, 83, 119, 196, 200, 208, and 245.

O’Connor, Francis V., ed. Art for the millions: essays from the 1930s by artists and administrators of the WPA Federal Art Project. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society Ltd., 1973. 317 p.
N8838 .O2
Based on the structure and content of a report on the Federal Art Project from the 1930s that was completed but never published. A collection of 67 essays highlighting different aspects of the FAP and the lives of artists during the New Deal era. Uses NARA records from RG 69.

O’Connor, Francis V., ed. The New Deal art projects: an anthology of memoirs. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1972. ix, 339 p.
N8838 .N4
The majority of the memoirs collected here are associated with Federal support for the visual arts: the New Deal then and now, which was published in 1969 and looked at New Deal art projects and their legacy in New York. Explore New York both because of its centrality to the New Deal projects and because its usefulness as a case study for governmental patronage of the arts in the New Deal.

Park, Marlene and Gerald Markowitz. Democratic vistas: post offices and public art in the New Deal. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984. xx, 247 p.
N8838 .P3
Explores the activities of the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture in sponsoring art throughout the United States as part of a larger phenomenon of governmental patronage of the arts under the New Deal. Considers many of the issues facing this program, including those related to regionalism, questions of identity, and conflicts over artistic freedom in commissioned work.

Penkower, Monty Noam. The Federal Writers’ Project: a study in government patronage of the arts. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. xii, 266 p.
PS228 .F43 P4
Explores the history of the Federal Writers’ Project and the controversy which surrounded that agency. Uses the FWP as a case study for a more general understanding of the nature of the New Deal as well as its significance for and role in the tumultuous political climate of the 1930s. Uses materials from the FDR Presidential Library and from RG 69.

Quinn, Susan. Furious improvisation: how the WPA and a cast of thousands made high art out of desperate times. New York: Walker & Co., 2009. 325 p.
PN2270 .F43 Q56 2009
A history of the Federal Theatre Project with profiles of the people involved, descriptions of the innovations the Project fostered, and discussions of the controversies that arose.

Rosenzweig, Roy, et al., ed. Government and the arts in thirties America: a guide to oral histories and other materials. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Press, 1986. xiii, 329 p.
NX735 .G6
Aid for those researching topics related to New Deal arts programs. A compilation of oral histories held in various repositories, indexed by name, program, position, and location of record. Also provides information about various related oral history and archival collections. Includes a selected bibliography of secondary sources and related films.

Schrader, Robert Fay. The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: an aspect of New Deal Indian policy. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1983. xii, 364 p.
E98 .A7 S3*
History of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, created in 1935 to preserve and promote Native American culture. Looks at the origins and activities of the board as well as controversy surrounding the agency. Follows the history up to 1945 when Roosevelt died and John Collier resigned from his position as commissioner. Uses NARA records from RG 48, 75, and 435.

Schwartz, Bonnie Nelson. Voices from the Federal Theatre. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, c2003. xxii, 218 p.
PN2270 .F43 S38 2003
This history of the Federal Theatre Project includes interviews with participants including actors, playwrights, directors, producers, and dancers.

Snyder, Robert L. Pare Lorentz and the documentary film. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968. xii, 232 p.
PN1995.9 .D6 S6
Account of Lorentz’s work with the government between 1935 and 1940. Chapters two and three deal with The plow that broke the plains and The river, documentary films produced by Lorentz under the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration. Also details his subsequent work with the United States Film Service.

Witham, Barry. The Federal Theatre Project: a case study. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xiii, 190 p.
PN2270 .F43 W58 2003
The author studies the Federal Theatre Project through interviews and archival resources such as RG 69, Records of the Work Projects Administration (WPA).

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National Archives and Records Administration

Archives Library and Information Center

The ALIC collection includes government documents related to various agencies connected with labor policy under the New Deal including the Public Works of Art Project and the Farm Security Administration.
"WPA: Federal Theater Project: theater-goers in lobby: Boston: "Created Equal" production," ca. 1935 (FDR Presidential Library NLR-PHOCO-A-53227(641))

Information about available materials can be accessed through the library’s online public access catalog.

Federal Records

The National Archives and Records Administration has a variety of materials relating to art and culture in the New Deal era. Information is held in various record groups including RG 69, 96, 119, 121, and 435. For more detailed information on available records, see the web version of the Guide to the Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. The following finding aids for to record groups related to New Deal art and culture are available through ALIC:

Records of the Federal Writers’ Project, Work Projects Administration, relating to Louisiana 1935-1943, 1988.
CD 3027 M3 N3 no. M1366

Preliminary inventory of the records of the Federal Writers’ Project, Work Projects Administration, 1935-1944 (RG 69), compiled by Katherine H. Davidson, 1953.
CD 3026 A32 no. 57

Preliminary checklist of the central correspondence files of the Work Projects Administration and its predecessors, 1933-1944, compiled by Frances T. Bourne, 1946.
CD 3026 P7 no. 37

Preliminary checklist of the records of the Historical Records Survey, 1935-1942, compiled by Betty Herscher, 1935.
CD 3026 P7 no. 18

Preliminary inventory of the records of the Farmers Home Administration (RG 96), compiled by Stanley Brown and Virgil E. Baugh, 1959
CD 3026 A32 no. 118

Preliminary inventory of the records of the National Youth Administration (RG 119), compiled by Virgil E. Baugh, 1963.
CD 3026 N3 no. 35

Preliminary inventory of the records of the Public Buildings Service (RG 121), compiled by W. Lane Van Neste and Virgil E. Baugh, 1958.
CD 3026 A32 no. 110

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Related collections in the Washington, D.C. area

Archives of American Art

Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution is home to an oral history collection that features interviews with several people involved in the New Deal arts projects. Other related archival material includes the WPA Photograph Collection, the Holger Cahill Papers, the Hallie Flanagan Papers, and selected records for the Section of Fine Arts. A list of oral history interviewees and some transcripts of interviews are available at the Archives of American Art New Deal and the Arts Oral History Project web site.

Michigan artist Alfred Castagne sketching WPA construction workers, May 19, 1939 (National Archives, Records of the Work Projects Administration, 69-AG-410)

Federal Theatre Project collection held at George Mason University

The Fenwick Library at George Mason University has a variety of materials relating primarily to the Federal Theatre Project but also some materials pertaining to other New Deal art projects. Additional information on holdings may be accessed through the Fenwick Library Special Collections and Archives web site. The following finding aids for the Federal Theatre Project collection are available through ALIC:

Library of Congress. The Federal Theatre Project collection: a register of the Library of Congress collection of U.S. Work Projects Administration records on deposit at George Mason University. Washington: Library of Congress, 1987. v, 320 p.
LC 4.10 61

The Federal Theatre Project: A catalog-calendar of productions. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. xxv, 349 p.
PN 2270 F43 F4

Library of Congress Special Collections

The Library of Congress houses several collections related to New Deal arts and culture, including the Ex-Slave Narrative Collection, the Katherine Amend Kellock Papers, the George Biddle Papers, the Folklore and Social-Ethnic Studies Collection, the Farm Security Administration/ Office of War Information Collection, Archives of Folk Song, Composer File of American Music, and WPA Posters Collection. Additional information about these and other collections can be accessed through the Library of Congress web site. The library also maintains several related web sites. The following finding aids for Library of Congress collections are available through ALIC:

Lloyd, Timothy and Hillary Glatt. Folklife resources in the Library of Congress. Washington: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, 1994. v, 44 p.
LC 39.9 8/2

Melville, Annette. Farm Security Administration Historical Section: a guide to textual records in the Library of Congress. Washington: Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, 1985. 48 p.
LC 25.8/2 F 22

Moorland-Springarn Research Center at Howard University

The Manuscript Division web site provides information on the collections available at the Moorland-Springarn Research Center of Founder’s Library. Included in the collection are the Isabele Taliaferro Spiller Papers that include materials relating to her work with the Federal Music Project.

Special Collections in Performing Arts (SCPA) at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library of the University of Maryland Libraries

The Special Collections in Performing Arts web site, maintained by the University of Maryland libraries, provides information about the Music Educators National Conference Historical Center Collection that features oral history accounts relating to the New Deal arts projects.

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Related web sites

Works Progress Administration: Crafts - Quilting Project, ca. 1935 (FDR Presidential Library NLR-PHOCO-A-7420989)

The Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 web site, sponsored by the Library of Congress African-American Mosaic Project, provides information about several books by African-American authors involved in the WPA project.

The Library of Congress American Memory Project maintains several related web sites. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 provides information about the library’s collection of Federal Writers’ Project materials and on-line resources. By the People, for the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943 features information about and examples of the posters created by the WPA. The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939, provides information about and on-line images from the Library of Congress collection, as well as scripts, costume design, and stage directions for several productions of the FTP.

NARA virtual exhibition, A New Deal for the Arts provides information about government involvement in the arts during the New Deal and examples of the art produced by those working in the projects. The web site is based on a 1997 NARA exhibit that was on display from March 28, 1997 through January 11, 1998, in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

The National Gallery of Art sponsors a web site on the Index of American Design, featuring background information on the project as well as virtual tours of collections, organized by topics. Provides information on the history and location of featured artifacts.

PBS sponsors a web site for the documentary series Free to Dance that looks at the role of African-Americans in the development of modern dance. Included in the history is information about the work of the Federal Dance Project.

The University of Virginia sponsors a web site of WPA American Slave Narratives that features excerpts of interviews and photographs of former slaves that were compiled by the WPA between 1936 and 1938.

The above photographs are available online through NARA's online catalog.

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