Public works program paid folks to whittle

Federal program funded whittlers.

Federal program funded whittlers.

Did you know back during the Depression our government spent money to kick start our economy by hiring the unemployed to whittle? I’m serious.

President Franklin Roosevelt responded to the crisis with a series of programs to put the 10 million able-bodied unemployed to work with the “alphabet” relief programs- the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Civil Works Administration (CWA). In 1934, these programs were replaced by the Works Progess Administration (WPA).

The WPA was distinguished from the earlier programs by its inclusion of the unemployed writers, teachers, librarians and artists. Federal Project Number One of the WPA was designed to document American art and culture, and included paying painters to paint our history. Part of “Federal One” was to celebrate and legitimize American art- homegrown art, including folks art, murals, theater and music.

Farmer & his dog- Fred Myers Whittler

Farmer & his dog- Fred Myers

Fred Myers- Historic Figures and Common Men

This artist participated in federal art programs in the 1930s and early 1940s. Myers was a coal miner, who began his artistic career by whittling. When the mines closed during the Great Depression, Myers worked to perfect his whittling skills. He was one of several artists the University Museum hired through the Works Progress Administration. He worked for the museum from 1939 until 1942, carving historic figures and prehistoric animals. The museum has 25 of his sculptures.