Solving the mystery of CCC Art and its origins sometimes happens when you least expect it.
It is an exciting research day when one of the mysteries surrounding CCC Art can be solved, especially if you weren’t looking for it.
A component of the first federal government sponsored fine art programs, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) included depictions of the government work programs, the most popular being the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Artists, who were considered roving artists, were briefly sent into camps to make a pictorial record of the life and work.
Leland Roger Gustavson (1899-1966) was one of these roving and prolific PWAP artists. Gustavson was sent to several CCC camps during the harsh winter months of January and February 1934.
In its March 24, 1934 edition, HAPPY DAYS the unofficial national newspaper of the CCC included a front page report and photograph on the PWAP CCC art projects.
Until recently the identity of the CCC boy and the camps where Gustavson’s CCC art was created was long ago lost to history.
During the Great Depression persistence and talent earned Frank Cassara a young, untried artist his place among the greats in New Deal art history.
The last of the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) artists, Frank (Francesco) Cassara, born March 13, 1913 in Partinico, Sicily died January 13, 2017, in Ann Arbor, Michigan – two months shy of his 104th birthday.
In the fall of 2010, Frank Cassara and his daughter, Francisca, graciously welcomed me into his Michigan home and studio. While giving me directions they voiced concerns with traffic I might encounter en-route; a football game was scheduled at the University of Michigan. If there was traffic I never noticed, but do recall the Spartans were not the only winners that weekend.
Frank was then 97 years old, in a wheelchair, soft spoken and was quietly reflective as I questioned him about his time and special circumstances as an Artist/Enrollee with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Illinois during the Great Depression years.
Initially we sat in the living room of his home. Frank watched as I arranged my papers, camera equipment and hooked up the audio recorder all while explaining the who and whys of our New Deal research, extensive travels and how we search for CCC art, artists and stories.
Frank apologized for what he believed would be unproductive time and wasted travel for me; explaining it had been years (authors note – 75+ years) since his assignment to a CCC camp and he really couldn’t remember much.
Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect as I handed Frank copies of CCC camp photographs and letters. The documents were dated 1934 – 1935, years when Frank was 21 years of age, living in Detroit, Michigan and desperate for work. He was writing or approaching anyone or any agency he thought might be of assistance, repeatedly.
As a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) researcher and author I am excited to be associated with the NNDPA, an organization whose goal is: to promote the identification, documentation, preservation and education of the Great Depression New Deal visual and performing arts, literature, crafts, structures and environmental projects and programs.
The New Deal – What and When?
It was the Great Depression – America was in the midst of an economic and environmental cataclysm previously unknown in its history. During the 1932 presidential campaign Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) addressed the grinding despair by promising “a new deal for the American people.”
It wasn’t until after his March 1934 inauguration that the true depth of the unemployment, hunger, homelessness and poverty was truly documented. President Roosevelt was facing an unprecedented national emergency; massive in size and scope.
These were uncharted waters, the programs and ideas FDR would authorize in an effort to address this crisis were experimental and untested. Boldly stating “Above All Try Something” best describes the New Deal and what he could offer a struggling nation.
Lasting from 1933 – 1943, the numerous and varied New Deal programs, policies and work projects forever changed and bolstered a struggling nation. Over eighty years later we continue to benefit from these remarkable accomplishments.
Between 1934-1937 the CCC art program encompassed the lower forty-eight states. Researching this quiet part of American art history requires extensive travel and investigation. Using a vintage motor home allows the best access to sleuthing within the parks, repositories and other collections that house this New Deal history. Often crucial information is found by going to the source; clues that lead to the art, artists and stories of the CCC.
We are appreciative for this article which draws attention to a quiet part of America art history and our efforts in researching the Civilian Conservation Corps and the New Deal CCC art program.
Requests for Civilian Conservation Corps records should include:
Full name used at the time of service (provide exact spelling and include the middle name if known); nicknames (if known); also include spelling variations.
Social Security Number (if known)
Date of birth
Place of birth
Home address (city and state) at time of service (this would be where they enrolled)
Parents’ name. If the enrollee was an orphan or a war veteran list the closest relative or dependent.
Dates of service
CCC Company numbers
Location of CCC camp(s) (city and state)
Title(s) of position(s) held – What is meant by position or title is their status. Were they a regular- junior enrollee, war veteran, native american, artist. Some CCC enrollees advanced to the position of Leader, Assistant Leader, Company Clerk, Canteen Steward and various titles that were considered part of the technical staff.
Send your written request to:
National Archives & Records Administration
ATTN: Archival Programs
P.O. Box 38757
St. Louis, MO 63138
General information and questions- 314-801-0800 firstname.lastname@example.org
Allow several weeks for a response. NARA will do a free search. If a record is located you will be contacted with invoice/payment/delivery instructions. Fee information can be found here: NARA CCC records.
If you plan on visiting the archives in St. Louis it is suggested you submit your request prior. Directions may be found on their website – NARA St. Louis. When visiting the archives there is no fee to photograph or scan the records, but there is a charge for use of their onsite copy machines.