Federal Students

In the early years of the Gallery, personnel consisted of the curator, Ruth Lawrence, and to those who are referred to in the archival records as, "federal students." This title is written in pencil on the back of a photograph in Box 3:

a group of people sitting on a curb

The Federal Students employed at the Gallery were part of the National Youth Administration (NYA), a division under the Works Progress Administration that provided work-study income to students and other financial support to youth in the years that followed the Great Depression.

A paper full of text

Box 101 contains a folder titled, "Gallery Procedures" in which resides the document, "Instructions to Federal Students." From the instructions, we learn of what the duties of the Federal Students were, "As noted above, the departments with which you will be mainly concerned are (2) Art Reference Room, (4) the Fine Arts Room, (11) the Galleries."

In the foreword to a bound gallery report compiled in 1939, Ruth Lawrence provides further description of the "federal students,"

"The N.Y.A. students were wholly untrained and those assigned often came to us at first disinterested in the work, and great deal of patience was needed in training them for the tasks they were to do... "

Other included documentation reveals the position requests that were made to the Federal Student Work Project in 1936-1937:


Secretarial - shorthand typing
poster work - art training-printing
journalism - handle publicity work
take charge of print room and art books, print file - graduate students in art if possible, afternoons free
collect materials on artists for their works for loan print collections - must have fine arts training
finish and make picture frames - carpentering and painting, packing and unpacking for gallery and lifting hanging exhibitions
guard duty - interest in art, so as to answer questions in gallery, two may be women for fine art room


An example of the duties performed by federal students is found on a Federal Student Daily Report:

yellow paper form

In the same 1939 gallery report, Ruth reflected,

"...The task was tremendous and it was fraught by almost insurmountable hazards due to the inaccurateness caused by ignorance of the material handled and the fact that the students were attempting tasks which required trained skill and knowledge. It was only through patient and laborious instruction that they could carry on with any degree of efficiency. However, without the excellent cooperation and enthusiasm of these students and a determination to build the Gallery into a fine thing, this task would have been hopeless."

A group of people at a table

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is a graduate student in the Master of Liberal Studies program at the University of Minnesota, completing a minor in Museum Studies. She also serves as a Visitor Services Assistant at the Weisman Art Museum.

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