WPA Diorama at State Museum of Pennsylvania

Sharing the Common Wealth showcases objects, artifacts, documents, structures and buildings from the collections of PHMC.

Under the auspices of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, specifically the Works Progress Administration (WPA), approximately one million objects for use as visual aids in the classroom had been produced by 1939 by Pennsylvania’s Museum Extension Program (MEP). From 1935 to 1943, the MEP churned out costume plates, prints, lantern slides, architectural models, dioramas, puzzles, puppets, marionettes, maps, flash cards, fish plaques, geological and industrial models, materials in Braille, and supporting narratives. The MEP produced a series of eighteen small-scale dioramas illustrating domestic life, customs, and activities of Native Americans. The realistically executed models, set against colorful backgrounds, were placed in a wooden box specially designed with a hinged top that opens, allowing natural light to illuminate the diorama. Of the Native American dioramas produced by the MEP — among them “Weaving Baskets,” “Hunting Buffalo,” “Hunting Game,” “Grinding Corn,” and “Building Wigwams” — the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) owns three. The Blair County Historical Society, Altoona, donated “Making Pottery” (pictured), “Ceremonial Dance,” and “Drying and Jerking Meat” to The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, in 2007, on the eve of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New Deal, being observed through 2008 by the PHMC as its annual theme.