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Belisario R. Contreras Papers on New Deal Art

Identifier: MSS-486-BC

Scope and Content

The collection contains the material for Belisario Contreras' book Tradition and Innovation in New Deal Art, London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1983.

The collection consists of documents on the New Deal art programs of the Roosevelt administration during the 1930's and 1940's.

It includes the official correspondence of Edward Bruce, Holger Cahill, and Forbes Watson, books and articles on New Deal art and the federal government's involvement in New Deal art programs, transcripts of interviews with New Deal artists and administrators, copies of personal letters, and pictures and slides of murals, sculptures, graphics, and easel works of New Deal artists.


  • 1860-1976
  • Majority of material found in 1933-1942


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.

Institutional History

During the Depression, the Roosevelt administration organized art programs to create jobs for unemployed and destitute artists. It was the first time that the federal government supported the arts on a national scale.

The New Deal art programs were instituted primarily by Edward Bruce - lawyer, business man, and professional painter - and Holger Cahill - a well known writer, museum curator, and art expert. Bruce's and Cahill's task was to articulate the artist's goals to the administration and to guide the specific direction of the federal art programs.

New Deal art was derived from three basic cultural sources: the Depression era, the attempt to develop a uniquely U.S. American art style, and the Mexican mural movement. In the 1920's Mexican muralists depicted on public walls the social ideas of the Mexican revolution. Bruce and Cahill took over this idea and developed programs which employed artists to paint murals in public buildings such as post offices, public libraries, public schools, and federal government buildings. These murals focus on important historical events and contemporary scenes of American life. Cahill and Bruce also developed other programs to support easel painting, sculpture and graphic arts.

Between 1933 and 1942 the Roosevelt administration developed a number of different federal art programs. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), initiated by Edward Bruce, was administered by the Treasury department and financed by relief funds from the Civil Works Administration (CWA). PWAP was an emergency measure that functioned only from December 1933 to January 1934. A second program, the Section of Painting and Sculpture, also established by Bruce within the Treasury Department, operated from October 1934 to June 1943. A third measure, the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), organized by Bruce and funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), operated from July 1935 to June 1938. The fourth measure, the WPA Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP), established by administrator Harry L. Hopkins and directed by Holger Cahill, continued the federal program from September 1935 through May 1943.


16 boxes (15.6 cu. ft.)

Separated Material

Photographs have been transferred to Belisario Contreras Photograph Collection.
Finding aid of the Belisario R. Contreras Papers on New Deal Art, 1860-1976 (bulk 1933-1942)
Processed by CSWR Staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 486 BC::Belisario R. Contreras Papers on New Deal Art)//EN" "nmu1mss486bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131