New Deal author explains significance of WPA projects

Compiled by PNT Staff Writer Celena Cordova

Kathryn A. Flynn

Title: Executive Director, National New Deal Preservation Association and the NM
Chapter of the NNDPA.

Years of experience: I’ve been directly involved with researching the New Deal since 1990.

Title of books: The New Deal: “A 75th Anniversary Celebration,” “Treasures on NM Trails: New Deal Art and Architecture,” assisted with “A More Abundant Life.”
What is the significance of having the WPA exhibit in Portales?

This is the 75th anniversary of the New Deal and our group is trying to have as many events in as many towns as possible in New Mexico.

There are various buildings and art in Portales that people are not aware of that were built during that era (1933-43). Hopefully, the art exhibit in the New Deal-created Courthouse will bring more attention to Portales’ New Deal treasures. By coming more aware, folks hopefully will appreciate them more and protect them more.

How did you become interested in the WPA art and exhibits?

As deputy secretary of state, I was assigned the responsibility of compiling and editing the New Mexico Blue Book — a free publication of that office. Future editions featured New Deal paintings and New Deal buildings (including Roosevelt County Courthouse).

What are the cultural and educational benefits of knowledge of such art work?

It helped people to better understand artists since most folks thought they were a little strange and helped them to understand that they were just like everyone else who wanted to use their God-given talents the same as farmers, businessmen, teachers and doctors.
What is the significance of the New Deal on the culture of New Mexico?

It saved valuable information about our state and country from total economic and social destitution. The country was facing situations like we are facing this week but there was no way out and many people were starving because of lack of work and their lands having been destroyed by poor land conservation.

Explain why you believe it is important to preserve the WPA art?

It was the first time our country and government participated in financing public art and, as I noted above, most of the paintings and murals on buildings show what we looked like around the nation — it recorded our lifestyles and who we were then.

I understand that you are originally from Portales, did that play any role in your interest in WPA art?

Yes, I came to Portales in 1947 when my father became the Presbyterian preacher. As a teenager, I noticed the murals in the administration building and post office and thought they were something special. It wasn’t until later that I was also introduced to the New Deal art collection at Carrie Tingley Hospital in Truth or Consequences and physically responsible for the moving of it to Albuquerque.

When the hospital moved there, I promised one of the elder doctors (who loved art) that I would look after the paintings — not knowing how much that promise would affect my life years later. When I was told to do the New Mexico Blue Book for the Secretary of State’s office, I remembered the murals at ENMU and thought that I should look into how they got there, who did them, etc., and if there were others anywhere in New Mexico.

How does this art inspire you as an author?

Its beautiful, there is much variety — more than other state’s collections. It is a wonderful way to share and enhance visually about our history of New Mexico.

How does the exhibit in Portales help to celebrate the accomplishments of the New Deal in New Mexico?

No one else in the state has shown this photo exhibit in their New Deal jail and probably few Roosevelt county citizens have ever been up to the old jail so it takes care of promoting two things at the same time.

Explain how the exhibit gives Portales and other New Mexicans a sense of appreciation for art?

The exhibit gives the viewer a representation of what is out there and the variety that is included. Hopefully it will encourage them to get in their vehicles, go to different towns and states and look for the art and the buildings. This could even enhance the state’s tourism opportunities since the art and or buildings are in nearly every town in New Mexico. It can provide a new adventure around the state to see if you can locate this free, public fine art.

How do the exhibits statewide restore the relevance of these art works?

It is possibly a new or another way to show off our towns around the state. It is fun and valuable to have local communities “discover” the treasures that they have either taken for granted or have never noticed. There are interesting stories that have come out about some of them that can make families and communities very proud.

How do you feel about the turnout for the opening reception in Portales?

I was pleased because there were people there interested in Portales and New Mexico’s history and others that were exposed to a part of that history they didn’t know much about. For us, it was an opportunity to give public recognition to family members of individuals who were in one of the New Deal programs.

Information: Kathryn Flynn: