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A Federal Art Project: Posters for Indian Court
January 14 - June 17, 2012
In 1938, Oakland, California based artist Louis Siegriest (1899-1989) was hired by the Federal Art Project (FAP) to create posters for the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 in San Francisco. The FAP was a branch of the Works Progress Administration, established to employ artists during the Great Depression and to provide art for public institutions. Between 1935 and 1943, the FAP commissioned thousands of artworks intended to document American culture and improve the quality of life in the United States. Posters were common, as they could be mass produced and widely distributed.
The 1939 Golden Gate Exposition celebrated the opening of the Oakland Bay and Golden Gate Bridges and highlighted the diverse cultures of the Pacific Northwest. The Indian Court was located in the north wing of the Federal Building amidst seven acres of exhibitions that presented a "Pageant of America." The project was led by the Director of the Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Board, René d'Harnoncourt, whose mission was to educate visitors on the native cultures of North America and to promote the production of and appreciation for authentic Native American arts and crafts.
Visitors to the Indian Court enjoyed a comprehensive presentation including an introductory hall with an overview of native groups, a series of galleries that explored the unique cultures featured on the posters, and a fine arts exhibition that showcased exceptional examples of contemporary Native American artwork. An open market allowed visitors to observe live artist demonstrations and purchase authentic goods.
For $3.00 an hour, Louis Siegriest supervised the stencil cutting and printing of the posters in the lower level of a boat anchored off Treasure Island. While Siegriest received credit for the promotional material, the designs were adapted from work produced by Native American artists in the 1930's. The artists who contributed resource material received little recognition and some remain unknown.
Poster sets were widely distributed as an educational resource and a marketing tool until the supply was exhausted. The U.S. government granted requests from publically funded institutions such as museums, universities, and libraries. An acknowledgement letter found in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art's collection files suggests that museum staff requested a set in 1939. The government also solicited orders from major transportation companies such as American Airlines and the Pacific Greyhound. As a result, an estimated 1,250,000 people experienced the Indian Court exhibition.
A Federal Art Project: Posters for Indian Court is curated by Jenny Hornby, Assistant Curator of Education, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
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Also view images of the posters from New Mexico's Degital Collections from the University of New Mexico.
For biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists
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