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Thank God and FDR
New Deal Art from Minnesota
Selections from the Ah-Gwah-Ching Archive

Seventy-five years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt pledged “a new deal for the American people” and thus ushered in a flurry of job programs designed to provide “relief, recovery and reform.” Among the best known was the Works Progress Administration. Established in 1935, the Federal Art Project, a division of the WPA, employed actors, dancers, writers, musicians and artists to perform, create new works of art and teach. In Minnesota, the WPA/FAP employed scores of artists to make art for public buildings such as schools, libraries, post offices and hospitals. Among the recipients of WPA art was Ah-gwah-ching, a state-run sanatorium for tuberculosis patients near Walker, Minnesota.

With the closing of Ah-gwah-ching this year, the Minnesota Historical Society became the proud steward of a large collection of art and objects created between 1935 and 1943. The Ah-gwah-ching archive, as it is now called, consists of 163 objects including 61 oil paintings and watercolors, 72 lithographs, 28 handicraft objects (wood carvings, textiles, metal work) and 2 sculptures.

The WPA/FAP fostered a golden age of art making in Minnesota. More art was made by more Minnesota artists than at any other period preceding it. When assessing the impact of the WPA on Minnesota art, the artists themselves have summarized it most effectively. One artist referred to the period as a “renaissance.” WPA artist Miriam Ibling perhaps summed it up the best when, in a 1982 interview, she exclaimed, “Thank God and Franklin Roosevelt . . .”

Approximately 60 works of art from this archive is now on view through November 2, 2008.

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