A WPA Artist from New Mexico Received National Recognition

Taos artist Patrocino Barela.

During the Great Depression one of the programs instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that had a lasting effect in the state was the Works Progress Administration (WPA). New Mexico benefitted greatly by the WPA most likely because of the reputation that Santa Fe had garnered as an art colony. The work created by the WPA is located in public buildings throughout the state. One of the artists to receive national recognition was the Taos artist Patrocino Barela.

A Sculptor of Primitive Art

Patrocino Barela carves one of his wood sculptures.

When the the New Deal programs began Barela applied for the WPA. His art became a part of the Federal Art Project where he received national recognition. Then his wooden sculptures were featured in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1936. Hailed by the New York art world, Barela’s primitive sculptures are still considered avant garde. He created his work from juniper and cedar. The theme of Barela’s art was based on religion and morality.

Art for WWII

In 1942 when World War II began the Federal Art Project became known as the Graphic Section of the War Services Division. That’s when artists were directed to explore and create patriotic art. Barela created a series of wood panels that depicted military scenarios. The images included an American flag, a map of the Tokyo Bay, guns, tanks, soldiers and airplanes. Barela’s new art differed drastically from his religious sculptures. The Taos artist’s war-related creations became a part the National Museum of American Art.

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