Investing in America’s Cultural Education: Parsons’ Carnegie “Fine Arts Set”

In 1939 the Carnegie Corporation donated one of its “Fine Arts Sets” to the high school in Parsons. Labette Community College, once aligned with the high school, now houses the well-preserved collection. Topeka High School and Wichita East High School also received donations of art materials from Carnegie.

Carnegie fine arts “libraries,” as they were sometimes called, consisted of reproductions and a smaller number of original prints; more than a thousand mounted photographs of architecture, sculpture, and paintings; and 150 or more books on art. The collections were typically managed by school librarians. High schools, both public and private, as well as colleges received the materials between 1926 and the mid-1940s. The program’s advisors included East Coast art historians and dealers.

A catalogue and usage guide came with the gift. In Parsons, Carnegie Corporation President Frederick P. Keppel, an art dealer known for his scholarship on printmaking, noted that a company survey showed high schools were using the materials less for art history instruction than for social studies learning and to satisfy the general “need for pictures in the life of the school.”

Case of mounted photographs
Carnegie Corporation Fine Arts Set

Labette Community College, Parsons

Francisco José de Goya
Born 1746, Fuendetodos, Spain
Died 1828, Bordeaux, France

Proberbios (Poor Folly), from the series Disparates (Follies/Irrationalities), ca. 1815-19 (published 1864)
Etching, burnished aquatint, and drypoint

8 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.

Carnegie Corporation Fine Arts Set

Labette Community College, Parsons

Common fox squirrels nibble on the fruit of a tree and sport their regionally varied colors in this Audubon image. Accompanying text about the Carnegie donation noted: “John James Audubon, of French parentage, became the leading naturalist of America at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. He traveled all over the country and thus had the opportunity of studying at first hand our native birds and animals … He made drawings which were later reproduced first in aquatint and then in lithographs and bound in book form.”  

A Parsons High School student who might have selected this work for a research project may have learned that while Audubon rendered the animals in this series, his son John Woodhouse often drew the background imagery, which in this case appears to be an apricot tree. 

John James Audubon
Born 1785, Les Cayes, Haiti
Died 1851, New York, New York

Fox Squirrel, from the series Quadrupeds of North America, 1849-1855
Lithograph with hand coloring

7 3/4 x 5 in.

J.T. Bowen, Philadelphia, printer
Carnegie Corporation Fine Arts Set

Labette Community College, Parsons