Wednesday, October 19, 2005

America as seen through a WPA lens

Express Staff Writer

Penelope Dixon

It's not a stretch to understand the appeal of the "Defining America" exhibition now hanging at the Sun Valley Center for Arts two galleries in Ketchum and Hailey. After all, these images are us.

There's an amazing story behind the photographs. The film was actually lost for more than 40 years in the Library of Congress archives. They were eventually found by an intern and finally developed in 1984 and 1985 using a dye transfer process.

During the depths of the Depression in the 1930s and into the early years of World War II, the federal government supported the arts, through a program called the Works Progress Administration, in unprecedented ways. For 11 years, between 1933 and 1943, the WPA employed artists, musicians, actors, writers, photographers and dancers who created important works of art. The works were entirely about America, from the cities to the mountains to the dust bowls and the Deep South.

Many of the images at the Center in Hailey were taken by Farm Administration photographer Russell Lee in 1940 in the small hamlet of Pie Town, N.M.

Apparently, he liked the area so much he stayed for a month documenting life in the high-desert farming community as part of the Farm Security Administration's New Deal survey of American life.

All the photographs in the exhibition are from a collection owned by Michael and Leslie Engl of Ketchum. Among the photographers represented are Dorothea Lange, Jack Delano, Mary Post Wolcott and John Vachon.

These historically intriguing photographs will be discussed by photography expert Penelope Dixon at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at the Center in Ketchum.

Dixon was the first appraiser to be solely certified in the field of photography. Based in Miami and New York, over the past 20 years, Penelope Dixon & Associates has given a number of lectures and participated in panel discussions on the topics of appraising and collecting photographs. Among these were talks at the Houston Museum of Art, The Center for Creative Photography at Woodstock, the New School for Social Research, New York City, Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., Photo Sante Fe and Contact Toronto.

For more information, call the Center at 726-9491.

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