Shoveling up dough for New Deal art

If you’ve ever noticed the mural on the west wall of the Main Post Office downtown, the colors, blocking and style – the sense of majesty and optimistic spirit of America – are in the genre of New Deal Art.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” government had a jobs program called the WPA, Works Progress Administration, that put unemployed Americans to work. One of the programs was devoted to artists decorating public spaces, primarily libraries, post offices and courthouses. It is a particular style conveying the ingenuity, pride, determination and grandeur of America.

Many artists emeriti of this country participated: Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, Marsden Hartley, Grant Wood and Ben Shahn to name a few. Surprised? I sure was! One can visualize Marsden, Grant and even Ben fitting in fine, and I can even imagine that Rothko could practice his shading technique, but I wonder where one would find Jackson Pollock in WPA art?

Ninety-five years later, many of these priceless and iconic works are being lost to neglect and decay. Why isn’t the government saving and preserving The New Deal artworks? Many are truly national treasures, both intrinsically and as a part of our historic record.

Yet, across the country, the National New Deal Preservation Association of grass roots volunteer groups are having bake sales and home grown fundraisers to come up with money to try to save these works.

And how are they doing it? Working like slaves for a few thousand dollars at a time, by drops in the bucket … . I’m asking, where are the National Endowment for the Arts and the Endowment for the Humanities, and all their millions? Pitch in folks! Surely this is more worthy than the cross in the pee, if you’ll pardon me.

Santa Fe’s tireless team led by the energizer bunny Kathy Flynn came up with “Paint Your Shovel,” reminiscent of the New Deal giving men shovel-ready jobs. Noteworthy artists like Gordon Skalleberg and Monica Sosaya Halford, and celebrities as big as Arlo Guthrie were each given a shovel to paint or decorate as they wished.

And 100 decorated shovels were auctioned off at the Scottish Rite Temple, at a dinner reflecting the Depression Era by costing only $10 a head!

I don’t know how they did it – it was a scrumptious dinner! The sale of the painted shovels netted about $6,000. Then an anonymous angel flew in and donated another $10K to the cause. Whew! Amen.

Wheelwright Grand Opening

Here’s a party that was 18 years in the making. In a nutshell, one night at a dinner party at Jim and Lauris Phillips’ house, Lauris said to Jonathan Batkin, president of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, “You know, I’m collecting the best pieces of contemporary Native American jewelry. I’d like to leave them to you when I’m gone.” (To the Wheelwright, not Jonathan).

Lauris managed to acquire 750 noteworthy bracelets, necklaces, pairs of earrings – she must have worn multiples.

So that meant building a gallery in which to display them. Welcome to the Jim and Lauris Phillips Center for the Study of Southwestern Jewelry! It is the most extensive collection of contemporary Indian jewelry in the world! No old pawn, no historic pieces, no vintage designs? … Just magnificent new, handmade, the crème de la crème, the best of show, 20-odd years worth of blue ribbons.

Opening night brought out 250 devotees of all things American Indian, particularly those yearning to see the splendid Phillips Collection.

Also friends wanting to check out the new Martha Hopkins Streuver Gallery named in honor of Marty Streuver, who apparently has worked night and day at the Wheelwright since she grew up, about the past 25 years! It sounds like they could not have managed without her! Surrounded by pals and benefactors, she led the way in for “first peek” before everything opened to the public the next day.

You’ve never seen such an assortment of squash blossoms, conchas and bolos on people at one party… the guests rivaled the exhibits.

Ashley Margetson has a BA in English from UCLA, is a senior real estate broker with Sotheby’s International Realty and has a finger on the pulse of philanthropic activities in Santa Fe. To tell us about an upcoming event, email

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