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A Gardener (and Worker) Reaction to Greenbelt’s Friezes

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I recently wrote a story for a national gardening blog I contribute to about the friezes on our Community Center, with the garden-centric title:  “To promote general welfare?  Garden!”  That quote was prompted by the images on the last frieze, showing the raising and holding of flowers to illustrate said general welfare, a correlation I naturally agree with and my excuse to write about the friezes on a gardening blog.

Here’s my local version of the story.

I love our Community Center in its entirety but especially the five bas relief sculptures along its front facade. Yes, the signage there makes the point that they’re not actually friezes at all but bas reliefs.  Friezes are generally higher up,  just under the roof line.  So, now I know.

The sculptor chosen for the bas reliefs was Lenore Thomas Straus, who won quite a few commissions from the Resettlement Administration during the Depression.  She was given complete freedom in her choice of subjects for the sculptures and chose the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  She used the workers building this new town as models for the faces and clothing shown on the sculptures.

bas-relief at Greenbelt Community Center by Lenore Thomas Straus

bas-relief at Greenbelt Community Center by Lenore Thomas Straus

bas-relief at Greenbelt Community Center by Lenore Thomas Straus

bas-relief at Greenbelt Community Center by Lenore Thomas Straus

bas-relief at Greenbelt Community Center by Lenore Thomas Straus

Finally,  the garden-promoting bas relief depicting construction workers and people growing and holding flowers.  Not just gardeners, but ornamentalists!  Gotta say, growing gorgeous plants sure promotes MY general welfare.

From plaques near the bas-reliefs I learned that it took Thomas and an assistant a year to build the five sculptures.  And I noticed this politically incorrect quote from the sculptor herself:

We want to keep the designs bold and simple and sufficiently obvious so that, with the lettering beneath each panel, any workman or child can understand them.

Which makes me thankful that we’ve moved beyond assuming that “workers” are stupid.  Or at least admitting as much for the record.

 

Follow Susan Harris:
“Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com and direct the nonprofit Good Gardening Videos.org.”

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