This beautifully illustrated book commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of the National Gallery of Art's acquisition of the Index of American Design. Widely regarded as one of the New Deal's most important art projects, the Index began in 1935 as a unit of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. Its aim was to compile and eventually publish a visual archive of American folk, popular, and decorative art from the time of settlement to about 1900. The approximately 1,000 artists involved in the project created more than 18,000 meticulous watercolor portraits of Americana.
The book presents 82 of the finest watercolor renderings along with a selection of the artifacts they represent. The original objects range from quilts, weather vanes, and hand-carved toys to carousel animals, stoneware, and cigar-store figures. Three essays explore the history, operation, and ambitions of the Index of American Design, examine folk-art collecting in America during the early decades of the twentieth century, and consider the Index's role in the search for a national cultural identity in the early twentieth-century United States.
Drawing on America's Past is the companion publication to an exhibition that runs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., from 27 November 2002 through 2 March 2003.