From the Museum

Carved Portraits of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (MO 1941.4.12-13)

Noted African American artist Leslie Garland Bolling (1898-1955) presented these carved figures of the Roosevelts to the President and First Lady in 1940.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Bolling was a largely self-taught artist who captured the attention of the art public with his busts and sculptures of working people and nude figures carved from wood. Bolling preferred to work with poplar because of its softness. He used a scroll saw to rough out the shape of a figure and a set of pocketknives to carve the details. He left each of his pieces unsanded, exposing his tool marks. Though these figures of the Roosevelts were painted, Bolling treated most of his works with only a light coating of wax.

Though Bolling never obtained enough funds from his art to work on his carvings full-time, he gained recognition for his art in the form of art shows and patrons. In 1935, he became the first African American to display his work in a one-man show at the Richmond Academy of Arts. He went on to exhibit his work in New Jersey, Texas, and New York. In 1938, with support from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Bolling and several local community leaders established the Craig House Art Center in Richmond. The Center offered training in art and art appreciation to African Americans and other minorities.

Learn more about these figures on our Digital Artifact Collection: Bolling Statues

“Leslie Garland Bolling at work. Photo by Kenneth Space, ca. 1936-7. Part of The Harmon Foundation Collection at NARA.”
ARC ID: 559230

3 thoughts on “From the Museum

  1. When FDR established the WPA, he appointed Harry L. Hopkins as its Director. It was Hopkins’ strong belief that writers, artists, musicians and theater people who were out of work needed economic support in the same way laborers and farmers did. Hopkins and FDR persuaded Congress to allocate a percentage of WPA funds to provide employment for writers, artists, musicians and theater people

    And so began the Federal Arts Project, which was implemented in all forty-eight states. Under the FAP program, unemployed artists were hired to decorate hundreds of post offices, schools and other public buildings with murals, canvases and sculptures.

    The Federal Art Project’s strongest outreach program was in art education for children. FAP maintained more than 100 community art centers across the nation in which the program provided art lessons for children, ran art programs and held art exhibitions of works produced by children and adults. Under the FAP, thousands of posters, prints, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and murals were produced and then loaned to schools, libraries, galleries, and other institutions. These art programs developed in Americans a new awareness of and appreciation for American art while at the same time providing jobs for needy artists. During the existence of the WPA’s Federal Arts Project, the estimated number of artworks produced were: 2,566 murals, 17,744 sculptures, 108,099 easel paintings and 240,000 prints.

    To qualify for work in the Federal Arts Project, artists had to meet certain professional standards as artists and had to meet the relief requirements of their state WPA relief board. The works artists created were reviewed periodically, and the artists could be removed from the FAP rolls if their work was unsatisfactory or if their financial status changed.

    Many of their works of art can still be viewed today in public buildings across America, and many of the art pieces have become collectors’ treasures.

  2. How interesting about the figures. What was the occasion that these items were presented? Thank you for any update.

    1. Leslie Garland Bolling presented the two carvings to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in September of 1940 with the hopes that they would be added to the collection at the President’s new museum. Bolling’s wish came true and in fact both pieces will be on display in our new permanent exhibit slated to open in the summer of 2013.

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