CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum opened its doors in 1933, and according to the Curator of Art at PPHM, Deana Craighead, during the 1930s the museum was in a period of growth and in an active collecting phase.

According to the museum, the entrance to PPHM, Pioneer Hall began in 1932, and Craighead said the museum was looking to decorate that space. This beautician came in the form of murals, that still adorn Pioneer Hall, and that tell the history of the High Plains. The New Deal paid for five murals in Pioneer Hall.

Harold Dow Bugbee’s The Cattleman:

Courtesy: Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

Ben Carlton Mead’s Coronado’s Coming:

Courtesy: Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

Both of these were funded by the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), which according to the Smithsonian Institution, was the first of the New Deal art programs, and was established under the Department of the Treasury in December 1933 to assist unemployed artists by enabling them to work on the decoration of non-federal public buildings.

Bugbee’s Ranch Headquarters:

Courtesy: Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

Mead’s Antelope Creek:

Courtesy: Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

Bugbee’s Working Cattles on the Open Range:

Courtesy: Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

All of these were funded by the Coronado Cuarto Centennial Commission, a WPA agency, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of the exploration of the states of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Craighead said that those who visit the museum can also view auxiliary works associated with the murals, such as the preliminary sketches and notes that went into creating them.

Also, according to PPHM, by 1936, the influx of artifacts made it necessary to add to the building. The museum said that the basement of the second addition was funded with a grant from the Texas Centennial Commission, which was a WPA agency, thereby making PPHM a Texas Centennial museum.

“The WPA was employing artists and when we are talking about creatives, we are talking about artists, we are talking about writers, actors, all kinds of people in the arts field and they were being employed to create different works of art. So, they were creating murals, but they were also creating posters, performance pieces, music, and other kinds of creative works during that period of time under those initiatives,” said Craighead.

Craighead said artists were given the freedom to create.

“One of the great things about it was, during those projects, there was very little interference or direction from the government about style or content, so the idea that the artists that were creating things like these murals that were so prolific in our area, especially as they relate to our area, post office murals, they had a lot of creative freedom to create the kind of objects, the kinds of works that they were driven to create,” added Craighead.

Craighead said that The New Deal artworks that were created in that time period were very much regional in nature, across the nation.

“They were about lifting spirits like you just said and I think it’s important for people to see a representation of themselves, I think that’s part of what makes, especially post office murals and like the murals we have in Pioneer Hall so important because you are seeing a nice cross-section of the population. You are talking about the history of a region, the murals we have in our building, are speaking to the connections to our region, from indigenous roots to the modern cattle industry, so it kind of this long history and people can identify with it,” said Craighead.

Craighead added that the artworks created during The New Deal have left a lasting impact on the art world.

“The fact that these are still here and we are still talking about them, speaks to the significance of their longevity and how they have impacted, not only our region but arts in the country as a whole,” said Craighead.

To view more murals around the High Plains, including post office murals and those located in the J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, you can visit the New Deal Art Registry.

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