The Works Progress Administration Visual Exhibit is supplementary to the promotion of the University of Kentucky’s WPA collection. Its purpose is to promote an understanding of what the WPA is and the impact of its projects in Kentucky. The slides in the links below are the product of my internship for credit, completed at William T. Young Library, University of Kentucky, under the guidance of Jen Bartlett, Mary McLaren, and Dr. Hollingsworth.
Working with the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection from KDL has encouraged my inquisitive nature. Many hours have been spent viewing this collection of 5,699 online pictures (the photographs are in Special Collections at the University of Kentucky). Each day spent at Young Library fulfilling my 144 hours of internship put me in a place of discovery. Most of my time was posed in front of a computed screen, but I took time to stretch my legs and venture out into the isles of bookshelves looking for WPA information.
Preliminary research into the WPA was needed to gain a general understanding of what I was looking at. Since University of Kentucky Libraries is the regional depository for over 2000 WPA items, I had no problem finding information. A journey to the basement of Young Library to view WPA items in SuDoc was most enlightening. The book covers are plain and most are soft-bound. They are filled with statistical facts and data. The titles describe exactly what is contained inside: inventories of county archives (in multiple states), social research guides, marketing laws surveys, youth on relief rolls, general relief benefits, final reports, inventory of records, guide and check lists to governmental record systems, farm and migratory worker statistics, mining and natural resource data…..and so much more.
Information is compacted in these resources and are waiting to be explored and unpacked by a serious student, researcher or historian. I started to see the connection in the pictures from the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection and the books in front of me. Those photos of men and women seated at a typewriter with a person dictating from an index card over their shoulder had me looking for “the” copy of ‘inventory of records’ or ‘county archive records’ that was being typed. The amount of information was intense and I had to reel my mind back in and focus. The objective was to create a visual display about the WPA in Kentucky. Some days I just wanted to randomly divert from the pictures and pull a few pieces of material and dig into them. I saw many ways in which the material was related to more disciplines other than History. Work (internship) related research was the priority and I had a job to do. My personal ambitions are noted and reserved for another time. Researching just the projects of the WPA from a prolific subject like the New Deal can easily be sidetracked. Lesson dually noted.
The Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection was already chosen for this visual display before I showed up as an intern. Twice a week I met with Mary McLaren, Federal Depository Collections Librarian, to plan and review the visual display content. My ambition was zealous and guidance was needed. I was trying to figure out how to tie in the promotion of the libraries’ WPA materials with the visual display. By this stage in my research, I realized that many disciplines would also find the WPA collection useful, or at least I thought so; but how does one make purpose recognizable? Mary listened to me intently and offered her wisdom. She said, “Well, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel all in one day. WPA has a Lib-guide that can be linked to other class course Lib-guides.” I laughed at her anecdote and was content for the moment with her suggestion. Improving the WPA Lib-guide is a work in progress and possibly during Fall semester 2012, I will have the opportunity to work on it.
The WPA visual exhibit will be on display this summer in the Hub of Young Library. Six projector shows, a TV screen in one core, and a display case for items to be shown. In addition to a few WPA color posters. The TV screen will run a DVD with sound of Roosevelt’s fireside chats and WPA promotional films made by the government. I found these movie clips at Internet Archive.
A typed transcript of Roosevelt’s April 28th, 1935 speech was found in the digital archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. A copy of it will be available to read as part of the display in the HUB. Items like these resource links is what the WPA Lib-guide will offer.
Many more WPA pictures are digitized in the Great Depression and New Deal photo collection of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Some of my favorites are below. I enjoyed viewing photos with similar (and different) content than in the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection. Like the photos from the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, most of the photos are posed. The subject scope in other parts of the country enhance my understanding of the work diversity and people across the country that were on work relief rolls and/or received WPA assistance.
The first photo below (from the digital archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum) of ladies mending, relining, and patching garments is contrasting to the photos of orderly rowed sewing machines in the Women’s Training Centers of Kentucky. I did not find a photo that resembles this type of Patch-Work Project from the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection, but the next photo is of some women not wearing a uniform or smock. The caption does not refer to them as relief workers but as a group of women sewing for flood victims. Some are dressed up and some have their hats on. In the next photo, there is reference to ‘patching’ in the caption stating various tasks learned at the Women’s Training Centers. The third photo below shows women sitting around a table sewing or mending. The fourth photo below shows black women seated around a table; the caption implies they are learning how to sew. Other than then this type of pose, other photos of women sewing resemble a factory like setting. Mending of clothing in Kentucky probably was not of garments like this fur jacket the two ‘Italian’ ladies are displaying. Many times over the semester I have wondered where these women came from and how were they chosen to work in these Work Training Centers. Were any women turned away? Was there a skill base requirement? Was everyone who applied accepted and then organized based on their skill level and experience?
This next photo (from the digital archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum) displaying a mattress is very different from those in the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection. The caption says it is ‘one of the million mattresses made by low-income farm families’. I found no photo of a Kentucky family showing off their new mattress. I will assume there was a need for new mattresses, but will not assume that none were made or received by low-income farm families in Kentucky, I just don’t have a picture to show it. More research could clarify the question: did Kentucky families receive materials to make mattresses?
Two New Deal programs, the CCC and the WPA Teachers Project collaborated as shown in these photos. WPA teachers instructed classes for the CCC. I would like to know more about the scope of this collaboration. What subjects were taught and what constituted a qualified instructor for the CCC’s training? The photo above is from the digital archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, and below, from the Good-man Paxton Photographic Collection.
The photo below is from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. It took me a few days to process what I was looking at. My first thought needs to be laughed at because I thought they were boiling bark as some sort of food preparation. I realize the ‘fibre’ means just that, fiber to weave and make things for use. Lost art indeed! I have nothing from the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection to compare this photo’s subject with. It represents the broad scope of WPA projects across this country and the people it reached. The subjects’ poses caused me to imagine this image set-up in a cultural museum as a visual display.
Below is an image that doesn’t specifically state it was a WPA project or if instruction was guided by WPA teachers, but the subject is similar in nature. Quilting, training, rehabilitation: the scope of the social programs during this era have many stories to tell. This image suggests differences in need from region to region, and is an example of how easy it was for me to fall away from my research boundary of the WPA in Kentucky.
Much of the work to complete this visual display is of a technical nature. Choose a picture, place it in the power point, write a caption, document its source, and make adjustments in font, size, color, and fit. My power point creation skills improved notably. The experience of working with the Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection for more than just a day or week has significantly impacted my understanding of this era. When I see a picture of a sewer project or a dirt road improved by paving it with crushed stone and think how primitive that was, I must also image what was there prior: a rutted dirt path, a muddy crossing, an out-house. When these changes are taken into consideration, along with other training and teaching programs, it is easy to recognize the infrastructure of our American culture taking place. If anyone should ask how this or that got here, I recommend they spend a little time with the WPA. My presentation is currently being reviewed by the Dean of Libraries for approval.