Everson Museum of Art

Syracuse, NY




Public Works of Art Project of 1934: Works on Paper


The Everson Museum of Art will present Public Works of Art Project of 1934: Works on Paper beginning March 3, 2000 and running through May 14, 2000. The exhibition, culled from the Everson Museum' s permanent collection, will explore the depth of work created under this early federal work relief program. Works in the exhibition by approximately twenty artists - including Mortimer Borne, Paul Busch, Don Freeman, Mabel Dwight, Victoria Hutson Huntley, Agnes Tait, Prentiss Taylor, Georges Schreiber and Emil Holzhaver - will portray scenes of the urban landscape and traditional views of rural life, as well as social problems of the early 1930s - racism, class inequalities, and unemployment exacerbated by the Great Depression. (left: Victoria Hutson (1900-1971), Lackawanna Bridge, 1934, lithograph, 9 x 13 1/4 inches, Gift of the PWAP of NYC)

In the wake of the Great Depression, a concern for professional artists' employment led the Roosevelt administration to allocate funds to the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). The PWAP ran from December 1933 to June 1934 and was the first federal attempt to sponsor the fine arts. It employed 3,749 artists, working in a wide variety of media. Under the guidance of Edward Bruce, artist and lawyer, it concentrated on hiring established artists, designating the theme the "American Scene" as appropriate subject matter. The artists were given the task of creating works to embellish public buildings - including one artwork for each member of Congress as well as for public schools, orphanages, libraries, museums and practically every other type of public building. Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard state in their New Deal Cultural Programs: Experiments in Cultural Democracy that "PWAP exhibitions in many cities were well-attended: 33,000 people showed up in a single day for an opening in Los Angeles. PWAP ended in April, 1934, along with the rest of the CWA." (left: John Edward Costigan (1888-1972), Group of Workers #1, 1934, lithograph, 12 x 14 1/4 inches, Gift of the PWAP of NYC)

PWAP was part of the Civil Works Administration (CWA), an experimental program in federal work relief, providing the unemployed with public service jobs during the bitter winter of 1933-34 when the number of unemployed ranged from 8 to 17 million workers , this, at a time when the total U.S. population was just 125 million. Not only did federal funding help artists flourish, it changed America's relation to art by bringing it into federal and public spaces where many could see and interact with the work. (left: Harry Leroy Taskey (b. 1892), Manhatten Sheep, 1934, lithograph, 14 1/2 x 11 5/8 inches, Gift of the PWAP of NYC)

Ed: If you are interested in "American Scene" art of the 1930s and 40s you may enjoy the WPA Period Print Collection Directory from the University of Montana.

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Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the Everson Museum of Art.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 12/23/10

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