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Finding Aid to the Federal Art Project at the Southwest Museum Records MS.252
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Use
  • Preferred citation
  • Acquisition
  • Publication note
  • Historical note
  • Scope and contents
  • Processing history
  • Arrangement
  • Related Archival Materials
  • Custodial history

  • Title: Federal Art Project at the Southwest Museum Records
    Identifier/Call Number: MS.252
    Contributing Institution: Autry National Center, Braun Research Library
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 35.1 Linear feet (22 boxes)
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1936-1937
    Date (inclusive): 1936-1939
    Abstract: The Works Progress Administration of 1935 created a Federal Art Project to support artists and provide collection and exhibit maintenance and reference material to museums during the Great Depression. The National Parks Service carried out one such Federal Art Project at the Southwest Museum, with some work being completed at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Art, and Science (now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County) from 1936 to 1937. The records, photographs, and works of art on paper document this Federal Art Project, and include one of two sets of documentary photographs made during this endeavor; the other under the custodianship of the National Parks Service. The main focus of this documentation and collection of reference material was historic and contemporary culture and life in the Southwest, including Native American tribes of the Southwest and California.
    creator: Cortez, Galileo
    creator: Cox, Gladys
    creator: Federal Art Project
    creator: Gellert, Emery
    creator: Hall, Ansel F. (Ansel Franklin), 1894-1962
    creator: Halle, F. J. van
    creator: Harrington, M. R. (Mark Raymond), 1882-1971
    creator: Harvey, Hazel
    creator: Hyde, Marie
    creator: Jordan, Helen
    creator: Mardis, Faye
    creator: Nadeau, Evelyn Hunt
    creator: Rader, Albert
    creator: Robinson, Helen
    creator: United States. National Park Service.
    creator: United States. Works Progress Administration.
    creator: Wardman, John W.


    Collection is open for research. Appointments to view materials are required. To make an appointment please visit http://theautry.org/research/research-rules-and-application or contact library staff at rroom@theautry.org. An item-level inventory is available from library staff.


    Copyright has not been assigned to the Autry National Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Autry Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Autry National Center as the custodian of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred citation

    Federal Art Project at the Southwest Museum Records, 1936-1939, Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center, Los Angeles; MS.252; [folder number] [folder title][date].


    Materials in this collection were deposited to the Braun Research Library (previously known as the Southwest Museum Library) by Museum staff and departments, circa 1936-1937. A later donation from Charles Rozaire (linked materials found at the Natural History Museum) was made in 1987.

    Historical note

    The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a relief measure established in 1935 by executive order. From 1935 until its end in 1943, the WPA employed more than 8.5 million people and established almost 1.5 million projects, including construction of roads, dams, schools and other public facilities, murals in public buildings, written guides to each state, and the Historical Records Survey. Administrative control of these projects was turned over to the states in 1939.
    The Federal Art Project, a subdivision of the WPA, was created to support artists while enhancing the arts in America. One of their projects, the Museum Art Project, was sponsored at the Southwest Museum by the National Park Service’s Field Division of Education. The goal of the Museum Art Project was to produce archeological, ethnological, and historical exhibits and reference material of Southwestern culture for the use of the museums of the National Parks and Monuments in constructing their own dioramas and exhibits. The project started April 8, 1936 and concluded 1937 July 10, with the only cost to the Southwest Museum being housing and supervision. Ansel F. Hall of the WPA and Southwest Museum curator M. R. Harrington organized and directed the project, creating a visual cache of information through photographs, line drawings, water colors, and oil paintings. All materials were to be made in duplicate, with one copy going to the Southwest Museum and one copy going to the National Parks Service. A collection of dioramas, miniatures, paintings, sculptures, labels and signs were created for exhibits in the Southwest Museum and the Casa de Adobe, which were opened to the public on 1936 December 1.
    In order to assist in reaching the goals of the Project, a Photography Project was also initiated to record the costumes and artifacts in the Southwest Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art (now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), and to create photographic prints of the negatives by Charles Fletcher Lummis of Native Americans in the Southwest. In the effort to capture the styles of dress, patterns of some of the apparel were drawn up and photographed, as well. Two prints were made of each negative created for the project, with one copy staying with the Southwest Museum and the other copy going to the National Parks Service.
    Then entire project employed 32 people at its height, including painters, map makers, sculptors, a plaster worker, letterers, a wood carver, a constructor of miniature costumes, a miniature vegetation maker for dioramas, a photographer, and two photographer’s assistants. Besides creating and updating exhibits and exhibit labels, other work accomplished during this project included cataloging of photographic negatives, creation of hand-lettered labels for specimens, diorama cleaning and repair, and the construction of a dark room for the photographic staff.

    Scope and contents

    This collection consists of administrative records, Photographic Field Notes, photographic files, and works of art on paper created during a Federal Art Project sponsored by the National Park Service at the Southwest Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art from 1936-1937.
    The first series contains administrative records, which include correspondence, instructions, personnel reports, and other notes and records regarding the administration of the Federal Art Project.
    The second series of these records includes Photographic Field Notes, Photographic File Notes, and photographs created for this project. Photographic Field Notes document field serial numbers and headquarter serial numbers, and information regarding the object being photographed and the photographer’s technical information. The photographs created for this project are mostly of clothing in the Southwest Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art and of artifacts at the Southwest Museum. Some photographs are of the line drawings depicting patterns for clothing. Some of the WPA employees are also documented in these photographs. This series contains mounted photos, photos and photo file notes in binders, and folders of additional notes. These files may contain extensive hand-written or typed notes on the collection items.
    The third series of this collection consists of works of art on paper, such as chalk drawings, ink drawings, maps, oil paintings, and water colors depicting artifacts and clothing in the Southwest Museum collection as well as historical figures and imagined scenes from historical California as well as contemporary Native American culture in the Southwest. Artists whose work is contained in this collection are Galileo Cortez, Gladys Cox, Faye Mardis, Evelyn Hunt Nadeau, Francis van Halle, and John Wardman.

    Processing history

    Initial processing by Glenna Schroeder, circa 1977-1981. Finding aid updated by Anna Liza Posas 2012 April 6. Additional processing and finding aid completed by Holly Rose Larson, NHPRC Project Archivist, 2012 August 3 made possible through grant funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).


    • Series 1: Administrative Records
    • Series 2: Photographic Field Notes and Files
    • Subseries 2.1: Mounted photographs
    • Subseries 2.2: Photograph Project Binders
    • Subseries 2.3: Photograph Project Files
    • Series 3: Works of Art on Paper

    Related Archival Materials

    Elizabeth Crozer W. Campbell and William H. Campbell manuscript collection, 1929-1936, Braun Research Library, Autry National Center, Los Angeles; MS.221.
    Mark Raymond Harrington Collection, 1930-1961, Braun Research Library, Autry National Center, Los Angeles; MS.214.
    Record Group 69: Records of the Work Projects Administration, 1922-1944, National Archives, 398.
    Southwest Museum Institutional Archives, 1901-2008, Braun Research Library, Autry National Center, Los Angeles; MS.3

    Custodial history

    Some materials in this collection were previously associated with manuscript collection numbers MS.573 and MS.654. All materials produced during the Federal Art Project at the Southwest Museum are now united and identified as MS.252. The collection numbers MS.573 and MS.654 have been retired.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.)
    Art, American
    Chalk drawings
    Field notes
    Indians of North America
    Ink drawings