The WPA Handicraft Projects, the subject of this exhibition, are the smallest and newest components of the Bienes Museum's WPA collections, although some of the original Wisconsin WPA Federal Writers' Project titles that date from the original Jean Fitzgerald donation in 1986, were coincidentally, hand bound by the Milwaukee Handicraft Project. Two of the most unusual decorative bindings are those for Wisconsin Circus Lore and Wisconsin Mushrooms. Other important Milwaukee Handicraft Project items included in the exhibit are block printed wall hangings and textiles, doll's clothing, portfolio bindings, children's books, and toys.
Of the seven WPA handicraft projects represented in the exhibition, Milwaukee was by far the largest, the most successful, and the most important and influential. The crafts it designed and created set the standard for projects in other states and municipalities and were often freely and willingly copied and reproduced. Few of the hundreds of thousands of actual crafts survive today but those that do remind us that the WPA's achievements were significant and history changing. Scores of unskilled, underemployed, and unemployed Americans were given the resources to enter the workplace with renewed optimism, pride, and self-esteem; they helped forge a post-depression, post-war America that, during the last half of the twentieth century, became an unrivaled worldwide beacon of stability and success.
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