Happy Labor Day - 9/1/2014

Today's guest blog post comes from Tia Harvey of Seattle. Tia is a recent graduate of the University of Washington with a bachelor's degree in Art History.
 
Have you ever noticed murals that decorate post offices, schools, and other public buildings? Most of the murals depict skilled workers such as farmers in wheat fields, men working on railroads, lumber mill workers, or workers on construction sites. Paintings like Tom Lea’s, Employment in Public Works can be found anywhere throughout the United States. This phenomenon is not a coincidence. At the start of the Great Depression, October 29, 1929 (or better known as Black Friday) the American stock market crumbled, leaving many without a job. By 1932, at least one-quarter of the workforce had lost their job. When newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933 he sought to stabilize the economy and provide jobs to the suffering in a series of federal programs called the New Deal; in turn giving us one of the most successful programs our nation has seen, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). One way the WPA provided jobs to Americans was through art.
 
 
Tom Lea
Employment in Public Works, 1934
On long term loan from the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration
2835.23P
 
The WPA Federal Arts Program (FAP) provided over 3,000 jobs in just 4 months and over 15,000 pieces of art ranging from murals to sculptures in government buildings. Many famous artists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were part of the FAP whom were provided a means of living during desolate times and according to painter Stuart Davis, artists employed during this period had possessed “a new orientation and a new hope and purpose based on a new sense of social responsibility.”
  
 
Carl Morris
Lumber Mill and Agriculture at Eugene Post Office, 1942
Oregon State Archives
 
To me, the Federal Arts Program helped provide Americans with solidarity of their economically crumbling country in two major ways. First is solidarity of the government. As experts on New Deal Art, Marlene Park and Gerald E Markowitz speculate in their book, Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal, the government’s interjection of public art establishes the presence of the government in our everyday lives. Secondly is the glorification of workers. Depictions of workers are often of a group of strong, unyielding men undaunted by the days work.
 
 
Carl Mydans
CCC (Civilivan Conservation Corps) boys working, Prince George’s Country, Maryland, Nov 1935
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
 
FAP artists sought to paint everyday life. The handwork and hard work of individuals resonates in all of us regardless of class. The art of this time serves as a reminder of how our nation was started and how it recovered from the one of the worst economic downturns in history.

 

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