New Deal Art Legacy Tour
Coming to town? Click on above image for a viewable map of this tour. Click here for a downloadable, printable PDF version.
When the Great Depression knocked America to its knees during the 1930s, New Mexico was able to survive, thanks largely to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, a plan he promised would "aid the forgotten man."
New Mexico Governor Clyde Tingley, a Roosevelt loyalist, helped ensure that New Mexico received more money than many other states. He doggedly trekked to Washington time and again to meet with government officials and secure federal dollars for his state. This government funding was administered through the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration as well as other programs of Roosevelt's New Deal.
The results were worthy of his efforts, as New Mexico received new dams, bridges, national and state parks, roads, public schools and other buildings, and many other public works.
Yet perhaps those who most benefited from the New Deal funds were the artists of New Mexico - those who had grown up in the state as well as those drawn here from around the world by the region's beauty and multicultural diversity.
Thanks to Roosevelt's initiative, painters, photographers, potters, muralists, furniture makers, tin workers, and other types of artists and crafts people working all across New Mexico were able to eke out a living during some of the hardest years in America's history.
For nearly ten years, public art was paid for by the New Deal with such programs as the Public Works of Art Project. This program hired artists to paint public murals with scenes lauding daily life in America as well as American history. Artists also worked to improve courthouses, city halls, libraries, schools and other public buildings with paintings, murals and interior design elements that included hand-carved furniture, tin work, pottery and other items.
Many New Mexico artists who participated in the New Deal came from Spanish Colonial villages --where crafts people produced furniture, tin objects, weavings and carvings -- and Native American communities, where funds supported the creation of murals, watercolors, pots and blankets, made by artists including famed San Ildefenso potter Maria Martinez and acclaimed Apache artist Allan Houser.
Ultimately between 1933 and 1943, when America's war effort began in earnest, the New Deal employed at least 167 New Mexico artists who produced more than 1,000 works of art across the state. So after you've discovered the artistic legacies of the New Deal in Santa Fe, consider visiting other sites around New Mexico where you'll find an abundance of murals, paintings, sculpture and other works of art created during Roosevelt's New Deal.
1. The tour begins at the U.S. Federal Building on South Federal Place. Inside the striking Greek Revival style courthouse, Santa Fe artist William Penhallow Henderson created six New Deal murals that were installed in 1938. They were among the most popular Santa Fe works of the New Deal era.
You might be surprised to find that the murals don't depict any symbols traditionally linked with justice or the courts. Instead, Henderson, a gifted artist, furniture maker, and architect, chose to paint famous landscapes of the region. Henderson's vibrant and colorful murals are of Old Santa Fe Trail; The Old Cuba Road; Monument Rock, Canyon de Chelly; Taos Mountains; Cabezon Puerco Valley; and Sand Trail Up Acoma Valley. "After all, it is best out here," Henderson once said, "so why not use it?"
2. Head east on Federal Place to Washington Avenue, where you'll turn left and walk to the Santa Fe Public Library at 145 Washington Ave. Outside the front of the library are two enchanting sculptures of children made of stone by artist Hannah Small. Initially these statues were placed down the street at what was then the Santa Fe Public library and they were intended to accompany frescoes created by Olive Rush.
3. Proceed to the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, at 120 Washington Library, which is open afternoons to the public on Tuesdays through Fridays. Frescoes painted here in 1934 for what was then the Santa Fe Public Library by gifted Santa Fe artist Olive Rush pay tribute to the power of books and to New Mexico's traditions as a bilingual state.
These sweet and simple frescoes, titled "The Library Reaches the People" contain endearing illustrations of books being read by children and carried away by burros to isolated towns and villages. They also show a nun with a traveling library surrounded by Native American children.
4. Next stop on the tour is the New Mexico Museum of Art at 107 W. Palace Avenue. The walls of the museum's patio are decorated by four fresco panels - "Voices of the Earth," "Voices of the Sky," "Voices of the Sipophe," and "Voices of the Water. They were created by Will Shuster, one of the famous Los Cinco Pintores, also known as the "five nuts in adobe huts" who painted in Santa Fe primarily during the 1930s and 1940s.
Shuster also is the co-founder, with Gustave Baumann, of Zozobra, a forty-foot puppet portraying Old Man Gloom. Zozobra is burned every year during the Santa Fe Fiesta in early September.
Shuster's idea for this fresco series, which honors Native American traditions, came from ethnologist Alice Cunningham, whose words appear in a plaque on a patio wall: "Living with my Indian friends, I found I was a stranger in my native land ... I learned to hear the echoes of a time when every living thing, even the sky, had a voice..."
5. Just a short drive northeast from the Plaza brings you to the Old Santa Fe Trail Building of the National Park Service, at 1100 Old Santa Fe Trail. Built in the Spanish-Pueblo Revival style, this National Historic Landmark may be the country's largest adobe office building, occupying about 24,000 square feet.
Completed in 1937, it was built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps and decorated by New Deal artists. Eddie Delgado, a Santa Fe native and celebrated tinsmith, for instance, crafted the grand hammered tin light fixtures that hang in the building while other Hispanic artists helped hand carve meeting tables, chairs and other fine Spanish Colonial furniture.
The collection on display contains painting and pottery by Pueblo artists, including San Ildefenso potter Maria Martinez as well as etchings by Santa Fe artist Gene Kloss and paintings by Victor Higgins and other painters of the Santa Fe and Taos groups.
If you have the chance, visit Santa Fe museums, many of which have New Deal art pieces in their collections. (You may have to ask to see some of these pieces, since they are not always on exhibit.)
For more information about the New Deal in New Mexico, visit the New Deal Legacy website.
The following books served as sources for this tour:
A More Abundant Life: New Deal Artists and Public Art in New Mexico, by Jacqueline Hoefer.
Treasures on New Mexico Trails: Discover New Deal Art and Architecture, compiled and edited by Kathryn A. Flynn.
Visit our Tours section for information on guided tours and tour companies.