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About the Collection    


  Early American: Pott's House, Nixon Tavern (lantern slide). From set: History of the Home - Architectural Drawings. Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project.

Education by Design is an online exhibit and image database of over 700 historic educational visual aids owned by the Bienes Center for the Literary Arts: The Dianne and Michael Bienes Special Collections and Rare Book Library located at Broward County Main Library in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These educational visual aids are significant, not only for their aesthetic beauty, but also as cultural and historical artifacts. All these items were produced under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal jobs creation program, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), founded in 1935. The agency was renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939 and operated until June, 1943.

The production of these items was administered at the state level in at least twenty-three states by WPA sub-agencies working in conjunction with local boards of education, colleges, museums, or other bodies. The WPA and its various subordinate agencies put millions of the unemployed back to work during the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930's. At the state level, many of the WPA sub-agencies producing educational visual aids were named "Museum Extension Project" or "Visual Aids Project." However, depending on the state, these programs may have had different names. The WPA's Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project (sometimes called the State-Wide Museum Extension Project, or simply as the Museum Extension Project) was the most successful and prolific of these programs and served as a model for other states. For purposes of shorthand, we shall refer to all the WPA-administered educational visual aid programs using the name "Museum Extension Project" (MEP).

The WPA Museum Extension Project Collection at the Bienes Center is the only known collection of its kind and is part of the Center's larger New Deal/WPA literature and art collection. The Bienes Center is a state-of-the-art facility where rare books and special collections are housed, preserved, and shared, and includes space for programs and exhibits. Opened in 1996, the Bienes Center was made possible through the personal involvement and generosity of Fort Lauderdale philanthropists Dianne and Michael Bienes. In 1998, the Bienes Center exhibited some of its unique collection of WPA literature and artwork to the public. The web version of this exhibition includes images of some of these items, a brief history of the WPA, and a selected bibliography.

Jean Fitzgerald, a retired United States Naval officer and a local library supporter who donated his important collection of WPA Federal Writers' Project materials to Broward County Library (BCL) in 1986, was the catalyst behind the Bienes Center's 1998 acquisition of its first Museum Extension Project (MEP) artifacts.

Mr. Fitzgerald maintains a strong interest in the Federal Writer's Project and while visiting Northern California in 1998 with his wife, Carol, made a routine visit to Schoyer's Books, the Berkeley book service that specializes in WPA items. At the shop, the Fitzgeralds were shown a small collection of hand puppets, marionettes, and puppet play scripts made by Pennsylvania's Museum Extension Project. They were intrigued by the little-known WPA project and by the unusually beautiful silk-screened play script covers and carefully crafted hand puppets and marionettes. Upon their return to Ft. Lauderdale, they offered to help organize a small event at their beach-front residence to help raise the funds required to purchase the collection for the Bienes Center. Instead, however, as a gesture of appreciation to Jean and Carol Fitzgerald's ongoing generosity, BCL decided to buy the collection outright. Since then, the Bienes Center librarians have aggressively acquired hundreds of additional artifacts, mostly through the Internet auction site, ebay.

Items acquired since the initial collection purchase include hand puppets/marionettes, dolls, figurines, toys, industrial and architectural models, posters, broadsides, play scripts, furniture models, costume plates, quilt patterns, lantern slides, dioramas, books, and textiles. The Museum Extension Projects of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, and Kansas crafted most of the items currently in the collection, although several other states are also represented.

We are pleased to make images from this unique collection available to the public through a 2001 National Leadership grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a federal agency that fosters innovation, leadership and a lifetime of learning.




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