Late in 2007, the Minnesota Historical Society became the proud steward of a large collection of art from the Works Project Administration (WPA). The WPA (1935 – 1942) was part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program to put unemployed citizens back to work. In Minnesota, this program employed numerous artists creating one of the most prolific and exciting periods in the history of art making in the state.
For nearly 70 years, this collection had remained on location at Ah-Gwah-Ching (meaning “out of doors” in Ojibwe), a state-run medical facility in Walker, MN. Originally opened as a tuberculosis hospital in 1907, the institution is scheduled to close early in 2008. The employees of the hospital and residents of Walker have taken great pride in (and great care of) this collection.
Originally commissioned by the federal government–which still claims title to all WPA material–the Historical Society has been identified as a facility best able to preserve, research and interpret the work from this important era. In an agreement with the General Services Administration, MHS will hold this work in perpetuity.
The Ah-Gwah-Ching archive, as it is now called, consists of more the 160 items including prints, watercolors, oils and woodcarvings by such artists as Bob Brown, Henry Bukowski, Reathel Keppen, Dorothea Lau, Alexander Oja and Bennet Swanson. A selection of this archive will be on view at the James J. Hill House beginning in May 2008.