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Morning Sun
  • Dolls and Dioramas

  • Projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of  President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to put Americans back to work during the Great Depression, tend to be large-scale, like the 150-acre Farlington Lake at Crawford State Park.

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  • Projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of  President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to put Americans back to work during the Great Depression, tend to be large-scale, like the 150-acre Farlington Lake at Crawford State Park.
    Much smaller are the projects of the Works Progress Administration, later renamed the Works Projects Administration. This program put artists to work at creating a variety of items, and some of them are also in Crawford County.
    The Crawford County Historical Museum, open 1 to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, is fortunate to a large assortment of WPA dolls, along with several dioramas.
    “We have one of the better collections of dolls that I’ve seen,” said Denzel Davidson, museum manager.
    Each state employed its artists, so the dolls vary from state to state.
    “Our dolls are 14 inches tall, but I’ve seen some that were a lot taller,” Davidson said.
    Sets could be ordered of  24 doll couples attired in different national costumes, as well as of couples wearing clothing styles of America from the Pilgrims on. The dolls have rubber or plaster bodies and rubber or papier-mache faces, all hand--painted.
    In Kansas, according to the Kansas Historical Society, doll production  shops were located in Topeka, Kansas City, Emporia, Lawrence, Mayetta, Columbus and Wichita.
    “The dolls were teaching aids,” Davidson said. “They were passed from school to school in trunks.”
    The museum has a good selection of foreign and American dolls, including Native Americans, but Davidson said they do not have a trunk.
    “I really don’t know where the collection came from,” he added. “The dolls were here when I came 30 years ago.”
    Better documented are the dioramas, miniature scenes that Davidson said are especially popular with youngsters who visit the museum.
    “We have copies of the paperwork from the Museum Project of the Works Projects Administration of Kansas when they agreed to construct the dioramas for Pittsburg Teachers College,” said Mark Dulek, museum volunteer.  “The agreement, dated in February of 1940, is signed by President W.A. Brandenburg.”
    The dioramas, which are more rare and less researched than the dolls, cost $10 each. Scenes begin in prehistory with grazing duckbill dinosaurs and a mosasaur, a marine reptile, and archelon, a giant turtle, who lived in the Niobrara Sea that covered Kansas 85 million years ago, then move on to scenes of Indian life.
    “When we were doing some cleaning, we discovered several dioramas behind a wall,” Dulek said. “One of them is a scene of Coronado, and another is a prehistoric scene.”
    He said that the WPA created almost 8 million jobs for artists, writers, musicians, actors and others. Their works, he said, helped raise public morale and kept the arts alive.
    Page 2 of 2 - “These people didn’t want charity,” Dulek said. “The CCC and WPA projects gave people a renewed sense of dignity that was missing from their lives. So many people wanted to work and contribute, but were unable to because of lack of jobs. These programs enabled them to have a new feeling of self-worth they both desired and were capable of gaining.”
    He noted that many people who come to the museum wonder why such programs can’t be put in place today. Personally, he doesn’t think that this would be feasible.
    “We can’t really fathom what the Depression was like,” Dulek said.
    “Unemployment was 25 percent and it was a desperate time. It was also a simpler time than now, and I believe that our modern bureaucracy would make it very difficult to do something like that today.”

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