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THE WPA: AN EXHIBITION features 261 books, pamphlets, ephemera, and artworks from the collections of the Bienes Center. Many of books and pamphlets were designed by the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Federal Art Project (FAP) in collaboration with the WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). Also included are: two paintings by the WPA artist Paul R. Meltsner, one given by Florida Atlantic University’s Library, the other donated by Louis Freedman; two architectural models from the Pennsylvania WPA; and several books by the Milwaukee Handicraft Project.

The exhibition highlights 54 Florida books, pamphlets, and ephemera and includes such unusual titles as: Broomcorn growing, Florida seafood cookery, The Negro sings, Tung oil industry in Florida, and Spanish land grants in Florida. Appearing for the first time in print are three unpublished texts: History of Broward County by Frances H. Miner; Lauderdale by Williamson; and Port Everglades [anonymous]. A reprint of the journal article Touring Florida Through the Federal Writers’ Project is also included.

Almost all of the 257 printed pieces in the exhibition were donated to Broward County Library in 1986 by Jean Fitzgerald, a former officer of the U.S. Navy, a bibliophile, a former Broward County Library Advisory Board member, and a founder of the Broward Public Library Foundation. His original gift of books, pamphlets, and ephemera now form the nucleus of the most important collection owned by the Bienes Center.

As a young Naval officer, Jean Fitzgerald first became interested in the American Guide Series by the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) while stationed in Washington, D.C. During a visit to a Georgetown bookstore, he discovered the largest title (1,141 p.) in the series: Washington: City and Capital. It was the first guide he purchased. As he was assigned to different military locations he acquired and travelled with other volumes from the series. He eventually became interested in additional titles published by the FWP, and largely through the efforts of Evanell Powell-Brant, a Palm Beach, Florida, bookstore owner, he amassed the estimated 600 titles that comprise the core of the current Bienes Center collection.

Jean Fitzgerald’s donation of the FWP material to the Bienes Center is a perfect example of how important a “seed” gift can be to the future direction and development of a rare book library. Because of the FWP gift, one of the present collection missions is to acquire all the FWP’s published and unpublished titles as well as items from other agencies from the WPA and similar agencies of the New Deal period, circa 1932-42. In fact, the collection has grown in little over 12 years from an initial group of approximately 600 titles to the current comprehensive research-level collection of over 1,400 items.

As demonstrated by the exhibition, the legacy left by the WPA and the Federal Writers’ Project is the treasure-trove of richly detailed publications that document life in America as it was in the mid- to late 1930s and early 1940s. As a legacy to the residents of Broward County, the State of Florida, and the nation, Jean Fitzgerald’s thoughtful and generous gift has helped preserve the knowledge and experiences of that troubled yet innovative era in U.S. history.


Special thanks are extended to Jean Fitzgerald for the 1986 donation of the WPA materials; to Margaret Bing, the Bienes Center cataloger/curator, for her dedicated and resourceful efforts over the years at strengthening and expanding the collection and for helping in all stages of organizing the exhibition and writing the catalog; to Kay Harvey and the Broward Public Library Foundation for their continued encouragement and financial support; and to Dianne and Michael Bienes for their unparalleled generosity in helping to foster the love of books.

James A. Findlay, Librarian
Bienes Center for the Literary Arts

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