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Welcome to the 2021/22 Charles F. Surendorf II Art Foundation
In 1934, during the recovery of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the WPA program to put people back to work. It was successful in the sense that roads, bridges, and buildings were built. For Cindy’s father, even more important was being hired for the WPA to create art for libraries, such as a mural that was done in Indiana, and propaganda and scenic art block prints that were distributed to 50 libraries throughout the country. The program allowed 50 prints off of each block for distribution, and then the blocks were destroyed so the artist would not be able to profit beyond for what he was paid. Until 1968, no blocks were known to have survived.
In 1968, Cindy was living with her father in Columbia, California. A very old woman drove up to their home asking for Charles. The three of them sat in the living room, and she pulled out three wood blocks from her purse. She began to explain: “I worked for the federal government during the WPA era. I was in charge of distribution of the art and to make sure that everything was done correctly.” The woman began to tear up. “I am sorry, Mr. Surendorf, that I had to destroy your blocks. I put these in my lunch bag and vowed before I died I would return them to you.”
As my father was handed the wood blocks, Cindy saw tears falling from his eyes. They hugged. No other words were spoken. The unknown woman got into her car and left. Their paths never again crossed.
Charles made a few prints from each block, but he held a certain fear about the Federal Government. Cindy saw that fear come into play as Charlie’s alcoholism increased. During the Martin Luther King riots, he called the White House and offered to paint the president’s dwelling black. Three FBI agents appeared on his front door the following morning. Charlie’s colorful life continued to his death in 1979.
All his blocks were destroyed in a house fire in 1985. What remains of his work are prints. The prints that were in the fifty libraries were either discarded, ended up in the museums listed here, or acquired by private collections.
Help bring back Charlie's work to Tuolumne County and also support all the arts that are offered today in Tuolumne County. Supporting the TCA and their mission is a major request as funds are not always available. We rely on everyone to step up and support all the arts and our future generations. Follow TCA at their new location downtown Sonora in the old Sonora Inn Building.