Gallup and McKinley County’s New Deal art collection is full of mystery. Through its Gallup New Deal Art (GNDA) project, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, gallupARTS has been working to find answers, solve puzzles, and generally clear things up with regard to the 150-object collection housed in six separate locations under the purview of three distinct entities. In July, the GNDA project team got a chance to literally go behind the scenes of the artworks in the collection. It made some exciting discoveries along the way. 

The goal of the GNDA project is to create an educational and interactive virtual art museum that brings together the entire collection and interprets its historical and contemporary significance. The project is currently in the prototyping phase. 

Kirk Gittings photographing Sheldon Parson’s Casa on the Hill at the McKinley County Courthouse.

In order to build a digital prototype, award-winning photographer Kirk Gittings was engaged to produce high-quality images of the artworks in the collection. This task could only be accomplished by taking paintings and prints off the wall and out of their frames. This enabled researchers to take a look at the works’ versos (a fancy art history word for back sides), which revealed some new information. 

Among the most exciting findings was an entirely new painting. On the reverse of Jozef Bakos’ Cottonwoods is an altogether different landscape scene painted by the artist. A small “x” mark is visible on the red roofs of the houses.

Jozef Bakos’ Cottonwoods, which hangs in the McKinley County Courthouse. 

What could explain this phenomenon? New Deal artists were required to turn in new work on a weekly or monthly basis to federal administrators. It appears that Bakos was thrifty in his use of materials–which is entirely appropriate given that these works were produced during the Great Depression–but that he did not, however, scrimp on his standards. He chose the better of his two landscapes to submit for public consumption.  

Another score was the discovery of a sketch by Lloyd Moylan on the reverse of his painting En Route to Ceremonial, which is actually titled Appointment in Gallup we discovered, as per the artist’s handwritten note. 

Lloyd Moylan’s Appointment in Gallup, which hangs in the Octavia Fellin Public Library.

Likewise, researchers discovered several artists annotated their canvases with specific dates or hours worked, which presumably indicate for which “pay period” the artworks count. Check out these two examples, one from artist Brooks Willis and another from Erik Barger.

Brooks Willis’ Desert, which hangs in the McKinley County Courthouse.

Erik Barger’s Shiprock, which hangs in the Octavia Fellin Public Library.

gallupARTS would like to thank everyone who made the photography of the New Deal art collection possible: Brian Money, Darrell Jimson, Ruben Guerrero from McKinley County, Rochelle from the McKinley-County Gallup District Court, Richard Malone from the McKinley County District Attorney’s Office, Tammi Moe from the Octavia Fellin Public Library, and Tamara Hall and Teri Fraizer from Gallup-McKinley County Schools.