When you visit the exhibit, be sure to see Lenore Thomas' bas reliefs on the front of the Community Center that houses the exhibit, as well as this sculpture by Lenore Thomas Straus, Gift of Lenore Straus, the artist's daughter, 2002.
The Knowing Hands That Carve This Stone:
The New Deal Art of Lenore Thomas Straus
Lenore Thomas Straus was a young, self-taught artist, when she carved significant, large scale works for the Resettlement Agency, and other New Deal relief agencies in the late 1930s and early 1940s. As citizens struggled under the weight of the Great Depression, which had begun in 1929, jobs were hard to find, especially for artists. The situation would change, however, with the 1933 election. While campaigning, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” Once elected president, he followed through on his promise and created a sweeping array of offices and agencies, all designed to help people across the country.
One such agency was the Resettlement Administration, headed by economist Rexford Guy Tugwell. The Resettlement Administration built Greenbelt, one of three Green towns that were bold experiments in town planning. They also provided jobs for people who needed them and housing where there had been shortages. These towns, Greenbelt, Maryland, Greenhills, Ohio, and Greendale, Wisconsin, as well as many of the other communities built by the federal government during the New Deal, often featured art in the form of free-standing sculpture, murals, and friezes.
The art was created under many different programs in addition to the Resettlement Agency, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which became the largest of the New Deal programs. It, in turn, created Federal Project One, whose mission was to employ artists, writers, teachers, actors, and more. With employment, artists and other creators were often able to pursue their craft in ways they had not been able to do before. Many went on to significant careers such as Berenice Abbott, Benjamin Abramowitz, Thomas Hart Benton, Jacob Lawrence, Alice Neel, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Ben Shahn.
Following her federal employment, Lenore Thomas Straus continued to work as a sculptor and artist at her home and studio in Accokeek, Maryland and later, in Maine. Her art continues to inspire today. Her story typifies how federal agencies offered a new deal to millions and left a legacy of important infrastructure projects, an outpouring of artistic creations of all kinds, and a stunning visual record of who and what America was in the 1930s.
The exhibit consists of photographs, artifacts, books, and original works of art by Lenore Thomas Straus and those influenced by her.
It is on view in the Museum's Gallery on the first floor of the Greenbelt Community Center, 15 Crescent Road, Greenbelt MD 20770 and is open Monday - Saturday 9am-10pm and Sunday 9am-7pm.