when it works, it works


A few weeks ago I made my first vintage book purchase as seen in the eyes of collection, appreciation, enjoyment, and information. You see, I'm pretty much a socialist in my political beliefs and one thing that I get excited about are government sponsored social programs (I get especially happy when they work). Anyways, one of the first major social programs that our country undertook was the New Deal under President Roosvelt. The New Deal and the Works Progress Administration were created during the Depression to help out of work Americans. Especially of note was the Federal One Project, which catered to fund jobless artists (writers, painters, graphic designers, architects, muralists, song writers, photographers, etc) who are routinely some of the hardest hit by economic downturn. During this time period, great works of art, writings, music, architecture, public space and infrastructure seen as something truly "American" were created.

Take for example, Oregon's famous Timberline Lodge, which is a prime example of many elements from the Program being put into realization. Local workers used large timbers and local stone to build the lodge, while skilled artists carved intricate decorative elements to be placed through out. The iron works were all hand turned by local blacksmiths and the heavy woolen drapes were all woven and designed by local textile artists and weavers. So many elements of so many crafts and trades came together for one awesome structure that is a testament to american design and craftsmanship. In fact, during the WPA there was so much construction that almost every community in America has a park, bridge or school constructed by the agency.

Of great importance to me as a graphic designer, were the posters that were created for the Federal Art Project. Over 2,000 posters were created between 1936 to 1943 these striking silkscreen, lithograph and woodcut posters were designed to publicize health and safety programs, cultural programs, art exhibitions and performances, travel and tourism, educational programs and community activities. I was so drawn to this special period in American Graphic Design, that my senior year of college I wrote a massive research paper about the FAP. The paper not only secured my A status for a very challenging Art History professor, but it also won first place in the Savannah College of Art and Design Art History Research Paper Competition and Symposium (try saying that three times fast). To this day, that was one of my most cherished achievements in college, especially since I wasn't even an Art History major. Take a look at this flickr site with tons of images from the poster collection. It's sad that when the posters were printed, many of them were just discarded and thrown in the trash... but that's the sad thing about public art I suppose.

Another program which helped unemployed writers, journalists, archaeologists, historians, geologists and cartographers, was the Federal Writers Project. One of the main projects that this agency created was a series of American Guide Books which encouraged US Citizens to travel and explore their own countryside and the lush history it contained as opposed to traveling overseas, which was very costly (and still is).

So, I decided that I wanted to share in American History and learn a little bit more about my new state, so I went on an internet search for one of the "jewels" of the American Guide Series, the book of Oregon - AKA: "Oregon: End of the Trail". Luckily, I found a copy in moderate condition from a seller in Oklahoma and a week later I found the lightly aged book in my mailbox.

The book is a very interesting look at Oregon from a watershed in the history of America and from a point when the state itself and its population was rapidly changing. Much like long time Oregonians fear today, the contributers of this guide feared the imminent disappearance of the small-town rural life which has characterized Oregon. They were also apprehensive of the construction of the Bonneville Dam and the construction of highways that would not only mar the beauty of the land, but increase urbanization.

In an interesting write up on the guide, the WPA State Supervisor T. J. Edmonds said when asked about Oregon's future: "The sons and daughters of Oregon today are tall and sturdy, and the complexion of the daughters is faintly like that of the native rose - a hue gained from living and playing in the pleasant outdoors. Will the sons of the impending industrial age be shorter and shrewder, and the daughters dependent for their beauty upon commodities sold in drug-stores; and will Oregonians become less appreciative of nature and rooted living and more avid and neurotic in the pursuit of wealth?" I think those statements and fears are true today. For those Oregonians born and raised here to the ones who have immigrated here for those very reasons.

In the coming weeks I look forward to tackling more of the book and hopefully maybe before the end of the summer, to take a weekend and go on one of the tours the book describes. In later years, maybe as well I can plan a route via bicycle through the history and culture of Oregon and the New Deal.

If you don't want to rush out and find a faded copy of the book yourself, the Oregon State Archives ran an exhibit the other year about the publication and some of the routes it followed. There are some great little tidbits of aged wisdom here and some nice black and white photos of the roadsides. I recommend you take a look and plan a little weekend roadways trip yourself. As well, if you live afar... do a little research and try to track down one of these books for your homeland or favorite vacation spot. Not only are they collectors items, but they help showcase a little bit of what makes America so special.

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