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Hispanic Heritage Month: September 15, 2012 – October 15, 2012

“Holy Family” Carving (MO 1956.328)


This pine carving, titled “Holy Family,” was created by artist Patrocinio “Pat” Barela in 1936 while he was employed by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA).

President Roosevelt created the WPA by executive order in 1935 to provide government-funded jobs for millions of unemployed Americans during the Great Depression. The WPA included a Federal Arts Program (FAP) that employed thousands of artists like Barela on projects around the nation.

Pat Barela was born in Arizona in 1900. His family moved to the Taos, New Mexico area during his youth. Barela left home at the age of 11 to become a migrant worker, but returned to Taos in the early 1930s. He began carving during this period. Using local wood, he fashioned each of his distinctive sculptures out of a single piece of wood, using its natural shape and imperfections to dictate the form of the piece. In 1935, Barela was working as a WPA teamster and carving in his spare time when a local WPA official recognized the quality of his work and arranged for his acceptance into the Federal Arts Program (FAP). Barela’s work soon drew the attention of Russell Vernon Hunter, director of the New Mexico FAP. With Hunter’s support, his art became recognized around the country.

This sculpture was among several Barela pieces that were featured in a 1936 exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Time magazine reviewed the exhibit and called Barela “the discovery of the year.” Barela’s work was later featured at the New York World’s Fair, the M. H. de Young Museum, and the Portland Art Museum.

One of the prominent visitors at the 1936 MOMA exhibit was WPA director Harry Hopkins. Hopkins admired the “Holy Family” carving and expressed an interest in having it installed in his office. Eventually, the piece came into the possession of the President who gave it to the Roosevelt Library.

Patrocinio Barela in his home studio in Taos, New Mexico. Photo by Irving Rusinow. Part of the series Photographic Prints Documenting Programs and Activities of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and Predecessor Agencies at NARA. ARC Identifier: 521861.

Model of Independence Hall in Philadelphia (MO 1941.12.38)

“Philadelphia is a good city in which to write American history. This is fitting ground on which to reaffirm the faith of our fathers; to pledge ourselves to restore to the people a wider freedom; to give to 1936 as the founders gave to 1776—an American way of life.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Acceptance Speech for the Renomination for the Presidency, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 27, 1936

This 1/16scale painted plaster model of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is one of 2600 historical models created in 1937 by the Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project (MEP), a branch of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). Constructed in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, the model includes a plan drawing of the building’s first floor, illustrating the “Declaration Chamber” and “Supreme Court Chamber,” as well as the center hall, tower, and east and west wings.

Models like this one were created by the MEP for distribution to schools and historical societies throughout Pennsylvania to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1937. This model was presented to President Roosevelt by Pennsylvania Governor George W. Earle as a gift. The President displayed it for a time in the Oval Office.

Unlike the best-known WPA work programs which employed laborers on highly visible public building projects, the MEP sponsored projects that were less visible, but also important and productive. FDR recognized that white collar workers, artists, and other professionals felt the impact of the Great Depression as much as blue collar workers. The MEP employed a diverse workforce, including educators, artists, architects, and skilled craftspeople. They also provided training to unskilled assembly workers.

Twenty-four states established branches of the MEP. Pennsylvania had one of the most active branches. According to its catalog, its mission was to “offer to the educational world authentic and comparatively graphic presentations of the human race’s evolutionary efforts to house and clothe itself.” During the 1930s, many schools—especially those in rural areas—lacked visual learning materials. Such materials were increasingly being recognized by educators as important tools to foster learning. In addition to educational models, the Pennsylvania MEP created costume illustrations, national flags, illustrations, puzzles, maps, geologic and industrial models, handcraft designs, food models, and other material aimed at “enabling all young minds more readily to get a realistic grasp of vital subjects they may be studying.”

The MEP shop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was commissioned to produce the Independence Hall model. The model and floor plan based on extensive physical documentation of the building. The MEP also created a short play about the Constitutional Convention to accompany the model.

The MEP and the Pennsylvania Historical Commission later collaborated on a History of the Home series, creating numerous architectural models illustrating vernacular architecture from Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa as well as historical buildings from Pennsylvania and other states. The Broward Library‘s Bienes Museum of the Modern Book in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has an excellent collection of these models. You can view the models on the Broward Library’s digital catalog at

May 6, 1935: The Works Progress Administration opened its doors and began sending unemployed Americans back to work.

WPA Theatre worker
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 48-49:1(262).


Did you know:

  • On May 4, 1941, FDR dedicated the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson in Staunton, Virginia as a national shrine.

March 10, 1939

“FORT WORTH, Texas, Friday…I was met by a young girl reporter on the train, an intense and vivid personality and one who voiced a desire which cheered me greatly. She wanted to know what young women could do to serve the cause of their country and of democracy. That is a spirit which most of us welcome with a deep sense of gratitude, for the cause of democracy needs service today.

I would be glad to see the Government make it possible for volunteers to receive training over a given period of time, by rendering some service which would be of use to the communities in which they live. This thought has often come to me when we have discussed the need of keeping young people out of the labor market for a longer period of time. The remarkable work I have seen in hospitals and government offices of various kinds done by WPA and NYA workers, leads me to believe that when these projects come to an end there will be real hardship. Perhaps some of this volunteer service would prove useful in civic and charitable work.

Texas NYA seems to be particularly interested in the assistance given education and in the resident projects which are apparently working out very well. They are also anxious to assist boys and girls in need of work, giving preference as far as possible to those whose families are on relief, but not barring from the resident projects youngsters who could not obtain the type of training available there in any other way. These youngsters come from families where the income is in the low brackets, though not perhaps actually on a relief basis. This seems to me to be a wise plan which I hope Congress will consider, though I realize that it presupposes careful and honest local administration…”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

May 6, 1935: The Works Progress Administration opened its doors and began sending unemployed Americans back to work.

WPA Theatre worker
FDR Library Photo Collection. NPx. 48-49:1(262).


The New Deal Estore is a great place to shop for Roosevelt related books, gifts, and other treasures from the New Deal Store at the Roosevelt Library. Available at, the Estore features everything from a selection of the latest books on the Roosevelts and their times, to T-shirts, ties and caps, multimedia, campaign memorabilia, and museum replicas. For items related to this week’s blog post, follow the links below:

Posters for the People: Art of the WPA by Ennis Carter
American Made – The Enduring Legacy of the WPA by Nick Taylor
When Art Worked: The New Deal, Art, and Democracy by Roger G. Kennedy
Pet Show Poster
1934: A New Deal for Artists by Ann Prentice Wagner
Soul of a People: The WPA Writer’s Project Uncovers Depression America by David A. Taylor

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