Southwest Museum

Los Angeles, CA


left: Mt. Washington location, right: The Southwest Museum at LACMA West, photos, ©1999 John Hazeltine [this URL is no longer active]



Watercolors by WPA Artist Evelyn H. Nadeau on view at the Southwest Museum


From April 1936 through June 1937 Evelyn H. Nadeau was commissioned by the WPA to document the Southwest Museum's collection of Southwestern basketry and selected pieces of Navajo, Mojave, Pima and Maricopa pottery. Twenty-five of her exceptional watercolors will be on view in the Lower Lobby Gallery through October 5, 1997. The exhibition, curated by Jack McCord, is funded in from the Camilla Chandler Family Foundation.

The Great Depression of the 1930s devastated the United States, as millions of people lost their jobs. When Herbert Hoover's presidency gave way in 1933 to Franklin D. Roosevelt, a "New Deal" was established, and in 1935 the Works Progress Administration was created. In 1939 the name was changed to Work Projects Administration. The WPA's approach to massive unemployment meant using available skills to accomplish necessary work.

The WPA lasted until 1943 and during that lime put nine million people to work on such projects as building roads and constructing buildings, bridges and tunnels. When plans were made to establish the Federal Art Project as part of the WPA, critics objected to spending money on "questionable" pursuits. The WPA's administrator Harry Hopkins replied, "Hell! They've got to eat just like other people." Painters, sculptors, art teachers, writers, musicians and filmmakers were among those who worked in the Art Project, and many left a legacy from which our country still benefits.

The National Park Service established a unit within the Federal Art Project to, among other things, provide for the preservation of antiquities of national significance. From April 1936 until July 1937 the Southwest Museum, under the leadership of Curator Mark R. Harrington, participated in this part of the Project, utilizing as many as 32 artists and crafts people. The rate of pay ranged from $84 to $94 per month, and "street-car tokens could be issued for those living at a distance."

Among the benefits which the Museum enjoyed from the Project were prints made from hundreds of Charles F. Lummis' irreplaceable photographic negatives from the late 1800s. Additionally, paintings were made of people and architecture important in early California history. Pictorial maps were drawn that showed Spanish missions in California and New Mexico. Historical figures and settings were created for dioramas. For cataloging purposes, paintings and drawings were made of items in the Museum's collections. Evelyn Hunt Nadeau was among the artists who worked in the Art Project during its 16 months at the Museum. She produced nearly 40 watercolors, mostly of pottery, with some paintings of baskets, robes and hides. A comment about her work found among the records of the Project states, "For reference purposes, sets of watercolors were made, the best of which is an excellent series illustrating the typical pottery of the various tribes of Southwest Indians..., a series worthy of exhibit or reproduction." A letter dated June 11, 1937, from the Museum to a WPA official calls Evelyn "one of our best and most versatile workers."

When the WPA ended its tenure at the Southwest Museum in 1937, Evelyn was hired directly by the Museum to continue cataloging its collections and provide illustrations for The Masterkey. During World War II Evelyn lived in Washington, D.C. and worked for the armed forces in cartography and aerial mosaics. In 1947 she returned to California, where she became an art teacher and free-lance artist. Eventually she retired to the family ranch just outside Santa Maria, where she died in 1976 at the age of 77.

rev. 11/29/99


Editor's note:

An Autry National Center page sourced October 2011 titled "What Is the Autry?" says: "The Autry National Center, formed in 2003 by the merger of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage with the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Women of the West Museum, is an intercultural history center dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West." A July 01, 2011 article in the Los Angekes Times titled "Los Angeles' Southwest Museum is an artifact worth saving" says: "...The Southwest Museum is conveniently located next to the Metro Gold Line station of the same name. But you can't visit the museum, and haven't been able to since it was closed to the public in 2006..."

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 10/7/11

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