Birds carved from cattle horns c. 1939

The 1930s were a bleak time in our nation’s history and especially in Kansas. The Great Depression was in full swing with the crash of the stock market, high unemployment, and people feeling a sense of hopelessness. To compound matters, the farming regions were experiencing drought causing the topsoil to erode and creating huge dust storms.

To help provide relief to the citizens of the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935 as part of his New Deal program. Putting people to work on public projects gave them employment and helped improve their communities. This was done by providing infrastructure in the form of building bridges, roads, highways, and public buildings (think Coronado Heights near Lindsborg, KS).

Other WPA projects provided educational and cultural programs. The Kansas Museum Project was sponsored by the Kansas State Department of Education whose purpose was, “To provide general museum services by establishing new museums where none exist, by enlarging present museum services, or by providing traveling museum services where neither of the other methods is feasible.”

The project supervised training in the making of handicrafts using both old and new techniques. Projects were varied and included woodworking, pottery making, weaving, printing, and diorama making to name a few.

The carved birds shown here made use of local materials in the form of cattle horns from the meatpacking plants in Kansas. The horns were carved, sanded, or scraped into the desired shape. Painted on eyes and a wooden base completed the art piece.

The McPherson Museum and Arts Foundation has an assortment of over 30,000 artifacts in collections. The MMAF would like to share some of these so we will be posting some of the more eclectic examples for your enjoyment. We hope to see you in the future. Until then, stay safe and well.