History professor guest speaker at new art exhibit

One of Truman State University’s professors traveled to Louisville, Kentucky last week, where his work is featured in a new exhibit at the Frazier History Museum.

The exhibit, “Kentucky by Design: The Decorative Arts and American Culture,” will run from Aug. 4, 2016 to Feb. 12, 2017 and celebrates the 80th anniversary of the Federal Art Project’s Index of American Design, which was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project during the Great Depression. Over 400 artists, including many Kentuckians, provided work documenting the American material culture of the 1800s in watercolor renderings. Beyond providing employment to artists, the purpose of the Index was to determine if there was a uniquely American design in the objects produced by American artisans, according to the museum’s website.

Kentucky by Design features over 85 original and facsimile watercolor renderings, paired with the actual objects and artworks depicted, according to the museum’s website.

Jerrold Hirsch, Professor Emeritus of History, says because he had written Portrait of America: A Cultural History of the Federal Writers’ Project he was contacted by the organizers of the exhibit. They wanted someone who knew about the Federal Writers Project and related projects. Hirsch says he attended a meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, after which the organizers asked if he would be willing to write an essay for the book Kentucky by Design: The Decorative Arts and American Culture. Hirsch says the organizers also spoke with the Kentucky Public Broadcasting Service, who also contacted Hirsch about doing an interview.

“They looked at my work and were enthusiastic about what I could bring to [the project],” Hirsch says.

Hirsch says his speech at the exhibit covered the New Deal’s Federal Writers’ Project, which was one aspect of the Federal Project Number One program instituted by Franklin D. Roosevelt. He says he also discussed the themes found in the program as a whole. The goal of the program was to create jobs for unemployed individuals during a period of mass unemployment, he says, and to introduce America to Americans in all its cultural diversity and to see that as a strength.

Hirsch says he was originally interested in southern history, literature and art — which led to his interest in the New Deal projects and writing his first book.

“[The New Deal projects have] kept me fascinated most of my adult life,” Hirsch says.

Hirsch says he is currently working on new projects, including a book about the cultural projects of the Federal Writers’ Project and a project centered around Benjamin Botkin.

For more information about the exhibit, contact the Frazier History Museum at 502-753-5663. For more information about Hirsch’s works, contact Hirsch at jhirsch@truman.edu.