Diorama, Grand Rapids in 1827
Three dimensional diorama entitled "Grand Rapids in 1827." The scene depicts Louis Campau trading blankets for furs with Native Americans near the shores of the Grand River. The diroama was created by Jaro Hess and Lester Busse for the Kent Scientific Institute as part of the Federal Art Project portion of the Works Progress Administration.
Wood, Plaster, Lead, Paint
36" h 45" w 22" d
Current Location Status:
Great Lakes Fur Traders
(after 2015)At the heart of the fur trade was the development of effective communication between two radically different cultures. Both the Native Americans and the Europeans were changed by their contact with each other, yet they managed to create a mutually beneficial system which persisted for 250 years.
Hess, JaroJaro Hess was born in 1889 in a small Czechoslovakian village. At the age of 16, Hess joined the French Foreign Legion in Algiers for what he described as "the worst five years of my life," in a 1929 Grand Rapids Herald interview. He ended up escaping as a stowaway on a boat back to France. Hess went on to graduate from the University of Prague with a degree in metallurgy, a training that brought him to the U.S. in 1910.
Hess stayed briefly in Pittsburgh working at steel mills in the Midwest. He then turned to photo-etching, and then to horticulture when he moved to Bay City. His hybridization of delphiniums won him membership in the Royal Horticultural Society of London, and brought him an important contact by the name of Charles Greenway, then owner of the Booth newspaper chain. Hess began working for Greenway as a gardener and landscaper, and moved with Greenway to a home on Reeds Lake. A story on Hess in the Herald, rival of the Booth-owned Press; however, got Hess fired. Hess turned to designing rock gardens and did landscaping for homes on Reeds and Fisk Lake, including the Blodgett estate. When the Depression came, Hess made a living tying flies for trout fishing before joining an aircraft factory out east at the start of World War II. Back in Grand Rapids after the war, Hess painted dioramas for the Public Museum.
In 1950, he retired at age 61, to devote the rest of his years to painting. He died in 1979, at the age of 90. Hess is best known for his children's fantasy painting, often sold as a poster, "The Land of Make Believe," a work he created for the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. This work is not available for reproduction at this time, as the copyright was sold during the Depression.Busse, LesterWorks Progress AdministrationThe Works Progress Administration (known also as the W.P.A. or WPA, and renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939) was a federal program developed in response to the widespread unemployment and economic need people in the United States were experiencing during the Great Depression. The goal of the W.P.A. was to provide one paid job to each household affected by long-term unemployment, thereby replacing a direct-relief model of federal aid with a work-relief model. The program was established on May 6, 1935 and was terminated in 1943 due to low unemployment rates caused by the onset of World War II.
A 1939 pamphlet Questions and Answers on the WPA describes a W.P.A. project as “any useful public work on which the Federal Government and some tax-supported public body have agreed to cooperate, through the WPA, in order to provide work for the needy unemployed. The project is a community or State enterprise which the WPA helps to carry out; the completed project belongs to the community or State.” The pamphlet further specifies that projects should be “on public property,” “socially useful,” and “not be a part of the regular work of the sponsoring agency, such as should be wholly financed out of its own regular funds.”
The way the W.P.A. worked in most cases was that state and local government sponsors initiated and planned projects that were submitted to W.P.A. administrators for approval. Once a project was approved, sponsors employed workers (skilled or unskilled) whose wages were paid by the W.P.A.; land, materials and equipment were funded/supplied by the sponsors. There were, however, some nationwide infrastructure projects that were sponsored and largely funded by the W.P.A.’s Division of Engineering and Construction.
The W.P.A. was a massive program, employing 3,334,594 people at its peak in November 1938, with many subdivisions that focused on different tasks and types of projects over the life of the program. One of the most conspicuous components of the W.P.A. was collectively known as Federal Project Number One; it consisted of five different parts: the Federal Art Project, the Federal Music Project, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Writers’ Project, and the Historical Records Survey.
[This description of the W.P.A. is a work-in-progress. More details are forthcoming.]Louis CampauLouis Campau was born in Detroit on August 11, 1791 to settler Louis Campau and his wife Therese Moran. His family came from a long line of French explorers and settlers of Canada and Michigan.
During the War of 1812, Louis Campau joined the French American military company under Captain Rene de Marsac and fought in a failed attempt to defend Detroit. After the war, he left Detroit for the Saginaw Valley to work as an Indian trader with his uncle, Joseph Campau, who had invested in his meager childhood education. In the six years he worked under Joseph, Louis established himself in eastern Michigan among prominent leaders. As a result, he was influential in founding Saginaw in 1819.
In 1819, Louis had married Ann Knaggs in Detroit, but due to his work travel they rarely saw each other, and Ann died in 1824. In 1825, Louis remarried, this time to his former Captain’s daughter, Sophie de Marsac. Having sold his business in Saginaw in 1823, he sought greater adventure near the Grand River, where rumors told of heavily populated Native American villages ready for trading. It is speculated he settled in western Michigan as an agent of Mr. Brewster in Detroit, to establish a competitor for the American Fur Company.
In 1827 he arrived in what is now Grand Rapids as the first European to settle the area. Sophie, his wife, followed him to Grand Rapids after several months. Others followed, including Louis’ brother and trading partner Toussaint Campau and Sophie’s sister, Emily de Marsac, who eventually married in Grand Rapids in 1834. In 1831, Louis Campau bought a tract of land bounded by Michigan Street, Fulton Street, Division Avenue, and the Grand River for $90. This comprises the heart of modern Grand Rapids. Eventually, as he sold plots of this land to other settlers – such as Lucius Lyon –and family members, this tract of land was platted into blocks, lots and streets. In 1833, the register of deeds of Kalamazoo County recorded this area as the “Village of Grand Rapids.”
Louis continued to buy outlying plots of land and expand the village along the east side of the Grand River throughout the 1830s. Through the sale of these plots to pioneers, Campau amassed a small fortune, which he invested in a comfortable life and enterprises in his community. These include the Eagle Tavern, the first hostelry in Grand Rapids, and the Grand River Times, the village’s first newspaper. He also built the first Catholic church for the village, on Division and Monroe avenues. He was highly generous and welcomed early colonists shelter in his log house, as well as white and Native visitors to his lavish garden. Due to his influence and generosity, in 1838 Campau was elected trustee of the village of Grand Rapids and also the president of the People’s Bank.
In 1839, however, Campau found himself nearly bankrupt after all his investments. He was forced to divide his properties among his brothers and colleagues, deeding the Catholic church on Division to his mother, Madame Therese Campau, who sold it to the Congregationalists in 1841. The iron cross that stood on its spire is now near the graves of Louis and his wife, Sophie. Despite his financial troubles, he remained in his mansion at 424 Fulton Street East from 1838 until 1862. At that time, he and his wife moved to a smaller home on the corner of Ellsworth Avenue and Almy Street.
In his last years, Campau was known for his fondness for the city’s children, since he had no offspring of his own. He also was known for his intense loyalty to the Union Army during the Civil War, due to his service in the War of 1812.
Louis Campau died of a lingering illness on April 13, 1871, and is buried in Saint Andrew’s Cemetery.