Back to Work: The WPA Era

June 25, 2009 - October 18, 2009

Northwest Projects Gallery

Back to Work: The WPA Era comprises thirty-one prints on paper selected from the University of Montana’s W.P.A. Period Print Collection.  This sampling of W.P.A. prints exemplifies the visible legacy of Depression-era public works projects.


The images mirror the times, from the confluence of the old world with the new as in Thomas Hart Benton’s Untitled (Watching the Train), to a summer night out as in Raymond Skofield’s Caravan Theater.

New Deal Art During the Great Depression

This exhibition is timely in that the work of the W.P.A. and other New Deal agencies has re-emerged as a model for the Obama administration’s massive economic stimulus program.  On May 6, 1935, the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) was created to help provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering through the Great Depression.  The artistic community had already become inspired during the 1920s and ’30s by the revitalization of the Italian Renaissance fresco style through the spirited creations of Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueriros.  Certain visionary U.S. politicians decided to combine the creativity of the new art movements with the values of the American people.

The Federal Art Project was one of the divisions of the W.P.A. created under Federal Project One.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt had made several attempts prior to the F.A.P. to provide employment for artists on relief, namely the Public Works of Art Project (P.W.A.P.) that operated from 1933 to 1934 and the Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture that was created in 1934 after the demise of the P.W.A.P.  However, it was the F.A.P. that provided the widest reach, creating over 5,000 jobs for artists and producing over 225,000 works of art for the American people.

It is this legacy of the thousands of workers who labored at their craft for little money, but with great pride that we have to inspire us today.