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Digging Out of the Great Depression: Federal Programs at Work In and Around Birmingham


The Birmingham Historical Society captures in a new book and exhibit seldom-seen murals that tell the story of an era, the history of our region, and the mood of a nation in hardship.

Depression-era murals survive and thrive in both book and exhibit form thanks to the Birmingham Historical Society's newest endeavor: identifying, assembling, presenting, and chronicling artworks which were created and appeared in the Birmingham area. "We just kept looking," explains Marjorie White, BHS. "We found the murals still intact in some structures, never having been moved in all these years. We found collections tucked in attics, archives, and online. It has been a fascinating scavenger hunt to find this incredible art, created by artists between 1929 and 1939."

The Book: Digging Out of the Great Depression: Federal Programs at Work In and Around Birmingham. It's the ultimate picture book, 144 pages with 250 seldom-seen images of our region's programs in the arts, agriculture, beautification, archaeology, school and infrastructure improvement, health, reforestation, theater and more. See our ancestors at work improving our community and keeping morale and productivity alive during one of our nation's most challenging times.

  • Examples: "Roadside Stand," a photograph by Walker Evans, famous for his Depression moods (including this photo those helping move people to New Deal housing); First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt Visiting Birmingham's archeological research lab; stone structures in area parks, road and infrastructure improvements and beautification; historical murals about the founding of America; and a series of 10 detailed and colorful murals depicting Alabama agriculture from its origins to the arrival of federal programs in the 30s; other New Deal murals proclaiming aspirations for better lives.

The Exhibit, November 7-December 31: Murals, Murals on the Wall 1929-1939: Our Story Through Art in Public Places See magnificent Depression-era artwork in person, covering the walls of the Birmingham Public Library's Library Gallery. You'll see 10 murals, created for the 1939 Alabama State Fair to chart the history of Alabama agriculture. "They were lost and forgotten in an attic of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), but are now rediscovered and being seen for the first time in many years," says White. The murals are restored and are loaned to Auburn University's Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at the conclusion of the exhibit. Digital images of other original murals in Birmingham libraries, post offices and courthouses will also be on display.

  • The Opening Event: Sunday, November 7. A 2 p.m. lecture on Birmingham's New Deal Murals, with Gaines Smith, Director, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and Marjorie White, Director, Birmingham Historical Society; reception to follow, 3-5 p.m. Books will be available for purchase at the reception in the Library Gallery.
  • Associated Activities at Library: Brown Bag Lunch Talks: Artists on Relief, with Graham Boettcher, Curator of American Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, November 3, Noon; The Discovery and Conservation of Birmingham Murals, John Bertalan, Conservator and Bruce Dupree, Historian, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, November 10, Noon. Both events in Arrington Auditorium, Birmingham Public Library, 2100 Park Place.
  • To Buy Books: By mail, Birmingham Historical Society, One Sloss Quarters, Birmingham, AL 35223, $35 postpaid; at the downtown library front desk; and at the November 7 opening event.

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  Birmingham Historical Society, One Sloss Quarters, Birmingham, Alabama, 35222
tel: 205-251-1880 | www.bhistorical.org