The WPA (Works Progress Administration) was instituted in May 1935 by a Presidential order as part of the New Deal and as extension of earlier public work programs. Aside from providing employment to destitute Americans, it also set aside 7% of its funding to create some of the most amazing artworks in United States history. Today, for some reason, the notion of providing labor for unemployed people or individuals on welfare is often considered harsh and not compassionate. In retrospect, the WPA seems to have provided massive self esteem not only for participants, but also for the American psyche. Today we are left with a variety of aging infrastructure, architecture, sewerage and sidewalks from this period. But the most essential component is often overlooked and left to disintegrate – the art.
These are the three WPA murals currently hanging in the former Royal Oak (Dondero) High School.
[located at 709 N. Washington Ave., Royal Oak, MI 48067.]
These murals were in storage from 1979-2004, and recently were rehung in the auditorium of the High School. (Dondero was closed last year as the Royal Oak school system continues to atrophy. Dondero was consolidated with Kimball High School and Kimball was then renamed Royal Oak High School. The Dondero building will now be a “junior” or middle school.) Current efforts are being made to preserve and restore these works after almost twenty years of abuse and neglect. They were rescued from a partially flooded basement, but thankfully remain very intact.
This is the first panel, “The Naming of Royal Oak”. It contains Michigan Governor Lewis Cass posing with muses and native Americans.
The second mural details various components of American life as seen in early Royal Oak, complete with Royal Oak High School (Dondero) at the top. These two pieces are done by Andrew Maglia, but he did not finish the project due to lack of funding. Work was halted in 1934, but resumed in 1937 with brothers Leon and Bronislaw Makielski who finished the third panel.
This is the third panel, which thematically commands respect for the various arts. The mighty “royal” Oak tree standing prominently top center.
Check out this website for more information about all the WPA artworks in the USA, and look for the Michigan link to see a listing of work in our state: