By the time the 1934 New Deal CCC artist program commenced George Gordon Snyder, born September 10, 1873 in Charles City, Iowa, was once again an unemployed artist. George was into his 60’s when he put pen to paper and signed the official CCC “OATH OF ENROLLMENT“. He was older than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and stranded in Hot Springs, Arkansas…the CCC artist program was all that was available…he had no other options.
Edward Rowan was appointed to the position of Assistant Technical Director, Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture, it was he who approved the enrollment of the artists and advised them:
“I want to stress to the artists that the purpose of sending them to these camps is to secure a pictorial record which will be of some value not only at the present, but in the future, of the life and activities of these camps.”Edward B. Rowan 11/16/1934
CCC artists were not bound by the limitation of age or marital status. They signed on for six month tours with a status of : “Artist/Enrollee” and with Rowan’s approval they could re-enroll indefinitely.
They were exempt from labor and fatigue duties but were not eligible for advancement, increase in pay or promotions. They received the full $30 a monthly pay and were required to furnish their own art supplies with the understanding that all art created in a 40 hour work week belonged to America and all movable pieces were to be shipped to the Treasury Department warehouse in Washington, DC where it would be allocated to tax-payer funded buildings or organizations.
In researching George Gordon Snyder it seems each decade was either feast or famine in regards to his financial security, which directly affected his artistic growth. Between 1910 and 1920 he worked as a commercial artist and blacksmith in Oregon, for a short time he studied art at the University of Nebraska, but never graduated. In 1922, he found work as an artist with the famous Marshall Field Department stores in Chicago and for seven years was gainfully employed.
During that time he married a much younger mid-western woman, Carrie L., from Branson, Missouri, she was 28 and he was 50 years old. The 1920’s decade were boom years for Marshall Fields and this in turn provided security for George and Carrie who were living less than three miles from the western shore of Lake Michigan. Their monthly rent of $55 was among the highest of the Montana Street tenants and unlike their neighbors they did not own a radio.
By 1929, a change in retail distribution and wholesale patterns in addition to the beginnings of the Great Depression could not save Marshall Field’s wholesale division or G. G. Snyder’s career as a commercial artist.
George, who always desired to get into the field of fine art, once again found himself unemployed …he built a “house truck”… they left Illinois and headed south toward the Ozarks. His hope was that this traveling studio would provide a: “living in the hills while spanning the gulf between the work that I had been doing and the kind of work which I wanted to do.” G.G. Snyder Nov. 24, 1934
During the winter of 1934, George and Carrie were in Hot Springs, Arkansas and for a few months he found work with the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), the first government subsidized art program administered by the Treasury Department. As a PWAP artist, George painted at least three pieces. The oil titled “Newcomer” would later be presented to Arkansas Governor F. W. Futrall and two of his other PWAP paintings “The Ozark Plowman” and “The Cross-Cut Saw” were shipped to Washington, DC . (1)
These impressive commissions did little to create financial security for George, like so many artists, he was unemployed again and contacted Edward Rowan in Washington, DC requesting a positon as a CCC artist. “If I understand some of the aims of the current administration correctly, I represent the class of citizens it wishes to reach and help.” G. G. Snyder Nov. 24, 1934
G. G. Snyder was 61 years old, on January 23, 1935, when he arrived at Devils Den State Park in West Fork, Arkansas. He would reside there for two years while Carrie stayed in the “house truck” in Hot Springs.
Eventually he would move her and the truck to Fayetteville so she could attend classes at the University there. He considered this arrangement a hardship for her and although he would have liked to provide better living conditions, especially during the winter months, he was reluctant to leave his artist position with the CCC…he felt it was doing him good and he liked working under Rowan…he was creating fine art landscapes… he was working and his art was appreciated.
At regular intervals, Snyder would ship paintings to Rowan and then wait to hear and act on his critiques and suggestions. Rowan would suggest that he warm up his pallete; acknowledging that Snyder was using the better art materials, which were more expensive, Rowan expressed regret that they were unable to change the stipulation requiring artists to provide their own supplies. Snyder also received word that the office in DC was now receiving requests for his landscapes.
On February 17, 1935, less than a month after arriving he sent his first group of paintings from Devils Den and included the description of: “The Road Builders” (Bridal Path Bridge) depicts some men completing a bridge on a bridal path, camp No. 2 below showing dimly on the hazy day.”
During the two years George was at Devils Den there were several changes in command and companies of CCC boys and hisaccommodations varied from living in the barracks with the regular enrollees to a small, cramped, unheated room. No known image of George Gordon Snyder has been located but this photograph from the 1935 Devils Den yearbook was found in the Arkansas History Commission collection. Could this possibly be G. G. Snyder, he’s listed on the roster and he appears to be much older than anyone else at the camp?
In January 1937, George was transferred to the Petit Jean Camp in Morrilton, Arkansas and writes: “I am very happy to state that here they have provided me with a large room by myself with excellent light, Since being here I have repainted some of the pictures that I had ruined at Devils Den.” The Petit Jean CCC camp enrollees were world war veterans; they were a hard working group who made Arkansas first state park the jewel it remains today. They built the beautiful Mather Lodge, numerous cabins, pavilions, bridges, overlooks and trails. One of the educational programs offered to the veteran enrollees was project of raising capons.
In March 1937 Snyder re-enrolled for another 6 months… he is happy… his work is improving and then he receives the form letter sent by Rowan to all CCC artists “We have just been informed by the War Department that henceforth junior enrollees 29 years of age or over will not be eligible for re-enrollment, and that the rule is interpreted by them as also applying to artist-enrollees……inform us immediately of your age…If you are not rendered ineligible by this rule I shall be glad to recommend you for re-enrollment to the War Department”
Subsequent letters between Rowan and Snyder now change; they become more personal. Rowan’s words are compassionate and his concern is sincere, he displays a protective nature and gives advice… Snyder’s letters seem rushed with missing words, the tone is one of urgency, almost desperation…the age restriction will eliminate him…he just bought new art supplies, paid some of his wife’s bills and he has little to go out with…he asks Rowan for more time…Rowan responds that he will keep Snyder’s letter in a pile and await the responses from all the other artists (which never happens) or until he is informed directly by the Army that Snyder is not eligible. This delay tactic gave Snyder another six months.
When Congress ceased the funding for the CCC art program all are officially informed that the program will close at the end of September 1937 and the artists will be discharged.
Shortly before he left Snyder writes to Rowan and confid es:”I have a very definite plan for myself which I wish to carry out, when I leave the CCC. I want to locate upon beautiful Mount Gaylor, there, with a good garden and some chickens, I am sure that I can earn a living through the sale of paintings to tourist who travel No. 71 Highway, which passes over the Mountain.locating there I could further develop my art as well as helping in the community in createing (sic) more art appreciation, and stimulateing (sic) a greater love of the beauties of this country and its preservation.
At present I have nothing to start with.” (2)
“View From Lodge” and “Section of the Lodge” were among the final oil paintings G. G. Snyder created during his 2 year 9 month enrollment as a CCC artist.
He shipped them from Petit Jean State Park to the Treasury Department warehouse in Washington DC and considered these last paintings some of his better work.
During the summer of 2012, Kathleen Duxbury, a CCC artist researcher and author , embarked on a lower 48 states trek. Traveling in a motor home with her husband Gardner Yeaw, to research for the book: “Idle Artists of the Great Depression – A Pictorial Record of the Civilian Conservation Corps”.
Their travel agenda, two years in the making, was power packed with appointments but, an important stop was at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Kathleen was scheduled to be part of a team presentation which focused on the PWAP art of Art Clough, master wood carver whose magnificent carvings are housed in the Knight Library at the University of Oregon. A portion of the Clough woodcarvings masterfully depicted the CCC. She was to join with Ken O’Connell professor emeritus in the U of O art department and Portland fine art gallery owner Mark Humpal, an Oregon art expert. Together they would lecture on the six carved cedar panels in the Knight Library.
Meeting for the first time a week before the presentation, at Mark Humpals Fine Art Gallery in Portland, they prepared for the lecture. When the meeting concluded and all were reorganizing and packing their things Kathleen switched to a slide show of CCC art she had located… when the G. G. Snyder “Bridge Builders” photo from the Smithsonian collection came on the screen all activity stopped …Kathleen remarked “He is one of the artists I am drawn to”… Mark immediately recognized the name and seeing the painting realized he knew of this artists work… Sixteen years earlier, Mark had purchased oil paintings at a Portland estate sale by G. G. Snyder; one was a landscape and the other was of a stone lodge with a unique chimney. After numerous, unsuccessful, attempts to identify the artist and the locations depicted in the paintings he had them conserved and then carefully stored them.
The collection of poignant CCC letters between Snyder and Rowan provided the source documents confirming that “Section of the Lodge” and “View from Lodge” referred to Mather Lodge, built by the CCC at Petit Jean State Park, and the oils, Mark purchased sixteen years earlier, were in fact art created by CCC artist G.G. Snyder while assigned to the CCC camp in Morrilton Arkansas in 1937.
Mark Humpal entrusted the two pieces to Kathleen and Gardner Yeaw for their safe return to Petit Jean State Park.
It took two months of RV’ing, with numerous research stops, to journey from Portland to Arkansas. On October 19, 2012, the oils were returned to Petit Jean State Park. Suitably the delivery took place in the Mather Lodge CCC Room. Those present were Kathleen and Gardner, Wally Sherrey, Petit Jean State Park Superintendent; Park Interpreters B. T. Jones and Rachel Engebrecht and Richard Davies, Arkansas Executive Director of Parks and Tourism whose grandfather, Samuel G. Davies, was the former Superintendent of Petit Jean CCC camp and Arkansas’s first State Park Director.
In 1937 Arkansas Director of State Parks, Samuel G Davies sent at least two letters to Washington DC requesting the return of ten George Gordon Snyder pieces for use at the park. It’s hard to know what transpired regarding this appeal because the offices administering the CCC art were closing and allocation was no longer under their direction once the CCC art program ended…or so it seems.
But the story as told to Mark Humpal by the woman running the estate sale… her father was a contractor who worked in Washington, DC…sometime in the 1950- 60’s he was with a crew working on restoration of the Department of Agriculture, there was a dumpster outside the building and in the dumpster was furniture, debris and art. He fished these paintings out of the dumpster… and 75 years later the request for the art of George Gordon Snyder to be returned to Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton, Arkansas was honored.
And what became of George Gordon Snyder and Carrie L?
They are last located in the early 1940’s…living in Bentonville Arkansas. He is 69 and she is 47 years old, they are self-employed on a farm, which they are renting, their occupation is: “Producers”- “Broilers” and George has a broken right hand.
George Gordon Snyder – Final Years
ID’s for last photo – 10/19/2012 -Standing in the CCC Room of the Mather Lodge in Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton, Arkansas holding the returned 1937 CCC art of George Gordon Snyder. L to R – B.T. Jones, Park Interpreter, Wally Scherrey, Park Superintendent; Richard Davies Executive Director Arkansas Parks and Tourism; Kathleen Duxbury, CCC artist researcher; Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter and Gardner Yeaw, CCC researcher.
Research for this artist took many sources and help. Records found in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and St. Louis, Missouri provided the foundation. They are CCC Camp Inspection Reports, Narrative Reports, Project Reports, CCC artist letters, Civilian Personnel Records, still photographs, CCC yearbooks and annuals. All these records span the years 1934 – 1937 and some are in Kathleen Duxbury’s personal collection. Some yearbooks were found in the Arkansas Historical Commission archives, CCC camp newspapers were found in the Devils Den State Park collection and the registration cards for WWI amd WWII and numerous US and state census reports came from online resources.
Special thanks to those who were part, directly or indirectly, for the identification and return of the G. G. Snyder art. Thank you Mark Humpal of Mark Humpal Fine Art Gallery in Portland. So glad you listened to your instincts when you thought to auction these paintings five years ago but, changed your mind. Whew, that was close. Ken O’Connell of U of O, without your assistance and friendship none of this would have come together. Kathy Flynn and Harvey Smith, National New Deal Preservation Organization and Joan Sharpe, CCC Legacy organization, your continued support of this research is valued. Whitney Mahar, Ashley Mattingly and Theresa Fitzgerald from the St. Louis NARA for your special efforts in locating G. G. Snyder’s personnel records, these were the final records that connected all the dots. Gene Morris, National Archives, College Park for always pointing me in the right directions. And to the many wonderful people in Arkansas whose suggestions, help and assistance faciliated the research and return of this art. David Ware, Arkansas Capitol Historian, Julienne Crawford, Arkansas History Commission, Tim Scott, Devils Den State Park, Wally Sherrey, Petit Jean State Park, B. T. Jones and Rachel Engenrecht Petit Jean State Park. Greg Butts, Arkansas Director of Parks, Richard Davies, Arkansas Exec. Director of Tourism and Parks…Mr. Davies it was so appropiate that you were present to assure the future protection of the G. G. Snyder artwork… thee CCC treasures that your grandfather Samuel G. Davies requested, in 1937, be returned home to Petit Jean State Park.
A special Thank You to the people of Arkansas who approved the legislation that uses a portion of sales tax dollars to protect and preserve your beautiful Arkansas State Parks.
The George George Snyder art is not only home where it is truly appreciated but it’s future preservation is in good hands.
We are honored to have been a part of this and feel that George Gordon Snyder and the first Director of Arkansas State Parks, Samuel G. Davies, would be pleased.