Speaker breathes life into Depression-era art


Alyson Greiner, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Culture and associate professor of geography at Oklahoma State University, gave a presentation regarding New Deal Art entitled “Place, Landscape, Community and Politics in Oklahoma’s New Deal Art” in the K-State Student Union’s Big 12 Room on Friday. Greiner’s presentation was sponsored by the Beta Psi chapter of Gamma Theta Upsilon and the Department of Geography.

The New Deal Art Program was one of many programs initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression. It gave artists a way to make money. Artists were hired by a government mandated organization to create art for new and current buildings all over the United States. Reputable artists were selected for this program by The Section to produce paid art work.

“Artists that have a good reputation were selected,” said Greiner. “The idea of The Section was to decorate buildings using the budget item that was provided for building decorations. One percent of the building budget was set aside for building decorations.”

Greiner began her presentation by explaining the impact Oklahoma’s New Deal Art program has on current buildings in Oklahoma.

“It was a project that was conceived on the state historic preservation office in Oklahoma City,” Greiner. “The preservationist there realized that Oklahoma has a reservoir of art as well as other cultural resources as a result of the depression.”

She went on to explain how the state department needed somebody to conduct a survey of the culture of Oklahoma and Oklahoma’s New Deal Art.

“They wanted somebody to help them conduct a survey,” said Greiner. “I happened to be in the right place at the right time and got involved in this project.”

Throughout Greiner’s study of Oklahoma’s New Deal Art program, she has developed a concrete goal focused on New Deal Art.

“It became my goal and purpose to survey the canvas of the state of Oklahoma and identify the extent of cultural resources related to New Deal Art,” said Greiner.

Oklahoma’s New Deal Art project focused on decorating post offices and other state-run buildings. Greiner traveled all over the state of Oklahoma and studied various art projects produced during the Great Depression that were related to Oklahoma’s New Deal Art program.

Murals created for schools were one of the art projects Greiner highlighted in her presentation. A mural that was produced in 1934 still hangs in an elementary school in Oklahoma City. The mural depicts a nursery rhyme.

Many of the settlement themes were also highlighted through Oklahoma’s New Deal Art. Greiner mentioned a mural in a post office that depicted a group of settlers discussing their travels at a camp site located beside dugout houses.

The majority of the artists selected to create art for the New Deal Art program were not artists from or in Oklahoma.

Although the depression lasted for almost a decade, the New Deal Art program ended shortly after it began.

“The New Deal Art program lasted about 6 months, from 1933-34,” said Greiner.

Laura Wallace, graduate student in geography, said she was not sure how Griener’s presentation tied into her master’s study, but it is interesting to learn about rural art.

“Seeing the talent of the artists and the character of it you don’t really pay attention to rural history, it is just kind of hidden,” said Wallace.

Jordan McAllister, a graduate student in geography, explained how Greiner’s presentation was related to his master’s study.

“Post office artwork is also very similar to courthouse artwork that I’m interested in,” McAllister said. “There was also a WPA New Deal influence on the courthouses that I particularly pay attention to.”

Greiner went on to explain that she will be conducting a follow up survey about New Deal Art in Oklahoma and how people view the art today.

“The next step of the survey is doing a history to heritage part,” said Greiner.