Emmy Lou Packard: Drawing New Conclusions in the Kaiser Shipyards
Exhibition at the Rosie the Riveter National Park September 5th through the end of January 2016
On Saturday, September 5th, Lincoln Cushing from Kaiser Permanente Heritage Resources will open an exhibition about the graphic art of Emmy Lou Packard who was employed by the Kaiser Shipyards during World War II in Richmond, California.
The World War II Home Front was truly a setting where “ordinary people did extraordinary things.” One of the best records of that dynamic period was the weekly Kaiser Richmond shipyard magazine Fore ‘n’ Aft, with news and stories of a war industry in which new workers were doing new jobs in new ways.
California artist Emmy Lou Packard (1914-1998) was on the Fore ‘n’ Aft staff and contributed approximately 100 illustrations. Packard’s work was patriotic without resorting to racist jabs or stereotypes; she portrayed workers with dignity and character. She drew women’s experiences from a woman’s point of view – numerous vignettes are of children (one of her regular subjects later in life), home life, and the challenges of survival and adjustment in a tempestuous time.
This exhibition features large reproductions of exemplary graphic art Packard made between 1944 and 1945, filling in a significant void in Home Front history, art history, and even of Packard’s own documented career.
The exhibition is curated by Kaiser Permanente historian and archivist Lincoln Cushing, and is sponsored by Kaiser Permanente in partnership with the National Park Service. Many of the images are from the Richmond Museum of History.
The exhibition is displayed in the lower level of the Visitor Center and will be available to the public through January of 2016.
The Rosie the Riveter Visitor Education Center is open seven days a week from 10 AM to 5 PM and is located at 1414 Harbour Way South, suite 3000, Richmond, CA 94804. For more information and directions to the Visitor Education Center, please call (510) 232-5050 x0 or visit their website. Admission to the Visitor Center and all park sites and programs is free.
If you would like to receive information about upcoming park events, visit www.rosietheriveter.org and sign up for the email newsletter. The Rosie the Riveter Trust is the nonprofit association that is building a community of support for this national park.
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The American economy at the end of World War II faced a huge challenge. We’d won the war, but now returning GI’s needed everything from jobs and housing to cars and refrigerators. The postwar demobilization was monumental, with over 10 million servicemen returning to civilian life by 1947. Sensing an opportunity and an obligation, Henry J. Kaiser turned his shipbuilding skills to domestic production.
That included making aluminum.
In March, 1946, the Board of Directors of Permanente Metals – originally formed to produce ships and magnesium – voted to go into the aluminum business. Leases were signed for war surplus plants in eastern Washington State at Mead and Trentwood. Mead was an aluminum reduction plant (where the mineral alumina is refined into metallic aluminum) and Trentwood was a sheet and plate-rolling mill.
The business was very successful. In 1949 the company was renamed Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation and the next year it purchased those two plants as well as others. KACC became the nation’s third largest aluminum producer. But during the 1980s the aluminum market tanked, and by the end of that decade the Kaiser family had divested itself of KACC. The new corporation continues under the Kaiser Aluminum Corporation name.
Just as the Kaiser shipyards encouraged “healthy competition” through sports and wellness programs, so did KACC.
Barry Wills and his future wife Kathy Baird worked at the Trentwood plant. Barry started in 1976, was briefly transferred to the Kaiser Refractories plant in Plymouth Meeting, Penn., and then continued working at Trentwood until 1981. Kathy worked there from 1972 to 1981. They played on Kaiser Aluminum sponsored softball and basketball teams (where they met) as well as participating in the popular “wellness” programs that encouraged healthy activities between 1975 and 1981. They loved it. In a recent interview, Barry recalled some of the highlights:
We played in the Spokane County Parks and Recreation Adult Recreation League. I believe we played at the AA level (AAA was the highest level). Typically, all the players on a AAA team played college ball at some level (NCAA or NAIA, Division II). We had one player that played basketball at a Junior College.
We were very competitive and won most of our games. Some of our opponents were Bob’s Barber Shop, Whitworth Alums, E & J Meats, Kaiser – Mead, and the Freeman Thrills.
Our biggest thrill was an invitation to play in a pre-game [exhibition] at the “Kennel” at Gonzaga University. Gonzaga played Oregon. We were excited to have a full house of Gonzaga fans halfway through our game.
The women’s basketball team enjoyed success in Regional and State tournaments.
This was healthy competition and thriving, one of the hallmarks of Henry J. Kaiser’s many former industries. It remains a hallmark at Kaiser Permanente.
All images courtesy Barry Wills.
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