HSLB Presents A Special Program on New Deal Art in Long Beach Schools

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New Deal Art in Schools

Photo by Victorial Damrel

Join Dr. Kaye Briegel and Librarian Maureen Neeley on Friday night, September 2, 2011 as they discuss the dramatic changes experienced throughout the Long Beach School District as it rebuilt schools devastated by the Long Beach Earthquake of 1933. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program New Deal helped Long Beach rebuild its schools.  Briegel and Neeley seek to bring the value of these works to a larger audience are giving an illustrated presentation on the First Friday in September. The artists who worked on these Long Beach projects are also part of the story. Learn how their careers were affected through their work with the WPA/FAP. This is an opportunity to see these “New Deal Schools” in a new light.

Six important schools are located in Belmont Heights, Belmont Shore and Naples: Wilson High School, Jefferson and Rogers Middle Schools, Fremont, Lowell and Naples Elementary Schools. They all have a very important date in common: March 10, 1933. This was when a 6.3 earthquake rocked the city, damaging or destroying 35 schools in the district. Jefferson, Fremont and Lowell were leveled. Wilson and Naples were heavily damaged. Rogers was still a gleam in the city’s eye (not yet built).

Destructive as the earthquake was, the Great Depression of the 1930s was equally debilitating. Money for reconstruction finally came via President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program, created to put people back to work. In the case of Long Beach, much of that work came in the form of rebuilding our schools.

In a new exhibit at the Historical Society of Long Beach entitled “Rebuilding for the Future: A New Deal for Long Beach 1933 – 1942” visitors all over the city will view the art and architecture of not only these Belmont Heights schools, but also projects found throughout Long Beach.

Architecturally, of course, many of schools were re-built in the popular styles of the 1930s: Jefferson, Lowell and (what would be named) Rogers, have an Art Deco or Streamline Moderne style; Fremont and Naples are more traditional Spanish. Wilson is unique in its Italianate style which was designed in 1925 and restored after the earthquake.

However, several of these schools also boast unique art, reflecting the era. The New Deal did not just put laborers to work. As Harry Hopkins, FDR’s head of the Works Project Administration/Federal Arts Project (WPA/FAP) put it, “Artists have got to eat just like other people.” With that, many painters, photographers, sculptors, writers, musicians and actors were employed on Federal projects. In Long Beach this meant murals, mosaics, bas relief, and sculptures were installed in newly constructed schools.

The “Rebuilding for the Future” exhibit will explore these and numerous other projects achieved through the New Deal in Long Beach. The Will Rogers bench, the bust of James Russell Lowell and the dream-like mural in Rogers’ foyer will be just some of the art featured at the Historical Society. Several of the artists who worked in Long Beach went on to become internationally-known. The Rogers bench is attributed to Stanton MacDonald Wright, who also was integral to the WPA Mosaic installed now on Third Street. His pioneering work using petrachrome to create texture in mosaic was considered groundbreaking.

The Special Program on Long Beach Schools featuring Dr. Kaye Briegel and Librarian Maureen Neeley begins at 7pm, on Friday September 2, 2011 at the Historical Society of Long Beach, 4260 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach 90807.

Funded in part by the Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association and featuring photographs by J. Christopher Launi, along with historic prints and ephemera, the exhibit is open through the end of 2011. Sections include: Long Beach Airport, Rogers Middle School, Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Wilson High School, Long Beach Public Library, Jane Addams Elementary School, Lindbergh Middle School, Washington Middle School, Rogers Middle School, and Fire Station Number 7. A section on public buildings includes the Port of Long Beach, St. Mary Hospital, a sample of easel art in the collection of the Long Beach Museum of Art, Veteran’s memorial building (now gone), and road work.

Accompanying Public Programs:
October 7 – Locals & the New Deal
November 4 – Art & Architecture at Long Beach Airport
November 19 – Art Deco during the 1930s
December 2 – Last Chance for a New Deal (gardens, sewing, music and other programs)

The show runs through December 31, 2011.
Exhibition hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 1-5 pm, Thursday 1-7 pm, and Saturday 11-5 pm.

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