Art Town: WPA a ‘New Deal’ for art in Westport
The Works Progress Administration was created in May 1935 and was active through 1943 as part of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s bold “New Deal.”
The plan was to have the WPA provide economic relief to U.S. citizens who were suffering through the Great Depression, including artists practicing in all disciplines.
As many as 10,000 U.S. artists were employed by this federal art project, which also operated community art centers with WPA artists teaching art for the first time in public spaces other than schools. Artists were paid about $90 per month.
The application process was statewide, and although many funding complications arose, important works of art were created thanks to this program. Visual artists who received these funds produced work usually referred to as WPA Art. Westport’s collection includes a marvelous group of murals still located in many town buildings.
On Feb. 20, 1976 , The Westport News published an article about Henrietta Cholmely-Jones, an artist, writer and town resident for 45 years, who gave full support to the then-burgeoning school art collection. Her artistic contributions to Westport began much earlier in 1934 with the advent of the WPA project, when she was appointed by the federal government as local supervisor for artists to decorate Westport’s public buildings.
Cholmely-Jones was one of four committee members responsible for selecting 17 local artists whose reputations were on the rise at that time. This committee included then-First Selectman King Mansfield, architect Sanford Evans and writer Brooke Church. Over the next four years, Town Hall, the library and six schools were recipients of murals, portraits, paintings, drawings, door panels, bas reliefs, sculpture, illuminated parchments, maps and photographs.
Thirty-two Westport artists signed up for local projects; 10 were selected. The WPA administrators in Washington, D.C., were so impressed with the quality of Westport’s WPA program that they commissioned artist Ralph Boyer to do a painting of Cholmely-Jones’ committee. It now hangs at Town Hall in Room 309. For her work as local WPA supervisor, Cholmely-Jones earned $1 per year.
Acknowledgements: Kathie Motes Bennewitz, Eve Potts, Dan Woog.
Miggs Burroughs is a lifelong Westport resident and full-time graphic artist since 1972. He is co-founder of The Artists Collective of Westport and a member of the Westport Arts Advisory Committee among other accomplishments.
Ann Chernow has been a Westport resident since 1968. Her artwork has been exhibited locally and worldwide. Chernow is an honorary member of the Artists Collective of Westport, member of the Westport Museum Committee and other arts organizations.