Emerson Gallery

History of Exhibitions


WPA Artists: Prints from the Amity Art Foundation

September 22 - December 30, 2006

John Stewart '64, P'07, curator of the current Emerson Gallery show WPA Artists: Prints from the Amity Art Foundation and founder and president of the Amity Art Foundation, presented a gallery talk and tour about the show on Saturday, October 15.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was implemented by President Roosevelt in 1935 as a program to help get people back to work during the Depression. The WPA philosophy was to put the unemployed back to work in jobs which would serve the public good and conserve the skills and the self-esteem of workers throughout the United States. "FDR recognized work as an identity for people…he put people to work, so they not only get money, but they will be feeding their souls," said Stewart. The WPA recognized and employed artists, including the visual arts as well as writers and poets.

The Emerson Gallery show consists of several prints made by WPA artists working in printmaking. During the eight years the WPA was in effect, printmakers produced close to 12,000 prints. There were ten printmaking centers in the country and artists could go to any one and be paid close to two dollars per day to make prints. According to Stewart, the artists were given a lot of latitude in terms of technique and subject matter. A number of the prints are related to work and the Depression. "There was a great deal of American spirit, national spirit, that went into it," said Stewart. "The WPA was more about the artist than it was the art."

The prints technically belonged to the federal government and many were used to decorate federal buildings and sites throughout the country. However, many of the prints did not survive.

Stewart is particularly interested in printmaking because it is a "populist medium." More people can own an image and it enables getting art to the masses, so that more people can enjoy and appreciate it. "From my perspective, art is communication," said Stewart. The theme of pride and dignity in the WPA prints sends an important message, both at the time they were made and now.

Opening Reception

September 22, 2006, 4:00 - 6:00p.m., Emerson Gallery

Curator's Tour and Reception

October 14, 2006, 3:00p.m., Emerson Gallery
John A. Stewart '64, P'07 will discuss the WPA's Federal Arts Project and its influence on American printmaking.

Film Series

Professor of History Maurice Isserman and Visiting Professor of Film History Scott MacDonald will present three landmark films produced by the Works Projects Administration, the Resettlement Administration, and the Farm Security Administration.  Discussion to follow.

  • November 1, 4:15p.m. in Kirner--Johnson Auditorium
    (1934; 4 minutes) by Ralph Steiner (produced by the Works Projects Administration) and The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936;28 minutes), written and directed by Pare Lorenz for the Resettlement Administration, with cinematography by Ralph Steiner, Paul Strand, and Leo Hurwitz, and music by Virgil Thomson.
  • November 15, 4:15p.m. in Kirner-Johnson Auditorium
    The River
    (1937; 30 minutes), written and directed by Pare Lorenz for the Farm Security Administration, with cinematography by Floyed Crosby, Willard Van Dyke and Stacey Woodard, and music by Virgil Thomson.