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Old Economy Village mural illustrates hardships of the Great Depression

August 16, 2016

Filed under Collections, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Treasures

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Old Economy Village mural painted by Richard Hay Kenah

This mural depicting the Harmony Society originally decorated the auditorium of the former Park Road School in Beaver County. Today, the painting adorns the visitors center at Old Economy Village.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched the New Deal in 1933 to alleviate massive unemployment, stimulate industrial recovery and create economic growth in the wake of the Great Depression. His relief programs gave work to millions of unemployed Americans including not only construction workers and laborers, but also artists, musicians and writers.

A 1932 graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago, Richard Hay Kenah (1907–1982), a native of New Brighton, Beaver County, could find no work — until he was employed by the Public Works of Art project (PWAP), organized by the Civil Works Administration. PWAP painters and sculptors — about 3,700 in all — decorated public buildings, including schools, museums, libraries and hospitals. For the auditorium of the former Park Road School in Ambridge, Beaver County, Kenah created a mural depicting the Harmony Society, which established Economy, its communal village in Ambridge.

In 1999, the Ambridge Area School District gave Kenah’s mural, towering 18 feet in height, to Old Economy Village, a historic site along PHMC’s Pennsylvania Trails of History. PHMC conservators removed the mural and transported it to Harrisburg, no easy feat based on the painting’s size and weight. With plaster still attached, the mural (a detail of which is illustrated above) weighed 500 pounds. After intensive restoration, the mural was installed in the visitor center at Old Economy Village. This year, 2016, marks 100 years since the founding of Old Economy Village as a state-owned museum and historic site.

This entry originally appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage.


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission houses artifacts hailing from all eras of the commonwealth’s past. These objects represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. PHMC curators continue to research the stories behind many of these rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.