Some winters ago I stayed briefly at Timberline Lodge in Oregon, USA. I had chosen it after I discovered it had been built as a Federal Art Project in the 1930s as part of Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal Project during the Depression years. I had long been interested in these Federal Art Projects carried out by the Works Progress Administration – a combination of socialism and the arts on a scale rivaling schemes in the USSR, best known for posters, murals and paintings.
My interest in ‘propaganda’ art began with a study I did at school for A Level Art, but could here be combined with my interest in landscape and regionalism and the meaning of place. It is interesting to read of the impetus for creating Timberline Lodge in this context. To give a flavour of this here are some quotes (apologies for formatting) from an essay on “The Builders of Timberline Lodge” originally written for a proposed report to Congress, presumably in the 1930s, on the value of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) available via the wonderful educational resource of the New Deal Network:
- “In Mount Hood Timberline Lodge the mystic strength that lives in the hills has been captured in wood and stone, and in the hands of laborer and craftsman, has been presented as man’s effort at approximating an ideal in which society, through concern for the individual, surpasses the standard it has unconsciously set for itself.
- This recreational project, the construction of which involved a larger variety of labor than any other in Oregon, cannot be matched in any other state. All classes, from the most elementary hand labor, through the various degrees of skill to the technically trained were employed. Pick and shovel wielders, stonecutters, plumbers, carpenters, steam-fitters, painters, wood-carvers, cabinet-makers, metal workers, leather-toolers, seamstresses, weavers, architects, authors, artists, actors, musicians, and landscape planners, each contributed to the project, and each, in his way, was conscious of the ideal toward which all bent their energies. Debating the possibility of environmental influence in this case would serve no purpose. It must be recognized that there was an element, a quality, a purposeful something, evident in all the work centered in Mount Hood Timberline Lodge.
- A young man was employed on the Timberline Lodge project to carve the newel posts on the massive stairway. Each post represents a bird or animal characteristic of the Mount Hood region. To be in keeping with the rough-hewn logs of the balustrades and the iron-bound steps, the designs required sturdiness and swift modeling. Convention-bound by the technique he had learned under a different social order, the wood carver struggled with his old tools, his old methods. In despair he sought help from the source of his material. He learned the relation of the wood to the mountain upon which it grew, discovered the adventure and romance of Mount Hood’s past, and found at last a technique suitable for expressing the spirit of the place.
- Its challenge may be the chiefest of all the values evoked by Timberline Lodge. Like the mountain upon which it is built, Timberline Lodge is symbolic of many things not seen in the timber and stone which make it. As the winding road leading to it represented progress by laborers, not the least of whose rewards was the daily inspiration of the enlarged and expanding view of mountain tops, so the building itself exemplifies a progressive social program which has revived dormant arts and pointed the way for their perpetuation. It presents concretely the evidence that men still aspire to the dream, often secret but always universal, of becoming greater than themselves through association with others in a common purpose.”
For those of you with cinematic interests Timberline Lodge was also known as the Overlook Hotel in the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining, with Jack Nicholson’s famous axe wielding scene. Luckily I don’t think I knew that when I stayed there or I might not have slept so well! The interior shots were actually a film set in Elstree though, with only the exterior shots using the real Timberline Lodge.
My own photographs are converted from slides and not very wonderful – apologies. I don’t know why I didn’t take more, either.