Depression-era art program exhibit worth look

By Clyde Davis: CNJ columnist

The old cell block in the Portales courthouse is being transformed — temporarily, at least — into a celebration of the arts. Not just any art, but the unique and time specific work of the WPA.

The Works Progress Administration was created May 6, 1935, to help provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering through the Great Depression, according to the WPA Web site. The Federal Art Project was one of the divisions of the WPA, creating more than 5,000 jobs for artists and producing over 225,000 works of art for the American people, the site said.

This display space, located on the fourth floor of the courthouse but elevator-accessible, will host numerous photographs of FAP art, along with a few original pieces, including the work of local artist Howard Schleeter.

This is possible through the generosity of Tom and Karen Clark, as well as Eastern New Mexico University.

Opening day for the exhibit is Friday, showing from noon to 5 p.m. A special opening lecture will be given by Kathy Flynn, now of Santa Fe, but a Portales native. Flynn is the executive director of the National New Deal Preservation Association and has authored numerous books on the subject of WPA preservation.

The exhibit will be hung from that date until Oct. 31, according to Rusty Torgeson, manager of Investments Out West Gallery.

Portales is one of five MainStreet cities selected to host the photo exhibit, as the art community honors the 75th anniversary of the WPA program.

Yes, 1935 was not 75 years ago, but if you check the Web site, you find that WPA actually had its genesis in a couple of starter programs, preceding by a couple of years.

Anyone who might wish to volunteer his or her time to supervise the artwork is welcome and appreciated; you may contact Rusty at 359-3100 or Woody at Woody’s Jewelry.

To state the obvious, the valuable nature of some of this work makes “artsitting” desirable.

Conjunctive with this show, the Investments Out West Gallery on Portales Main Square is featuring the work of local New Mexico photographers, many of them from Clovis and Portales. This show is entitled Photo 76, as all subject matter is drawn from a 76-mile area, limited however to New Mexico. Many of the names you will see here are certainly known to you, if you are at all aware of the local photography community.

Appreciate our history and our heritage, pay honor to our present and its interpreters.

Make time to catch both of these exhibits.