During the Depression, from 1935 through 1943, the federal government subsidized thousands of American artists. Murals, paintings, and sculptures were all commissioned and paid for by the Works Progress Administration. In this manner, young artists of the Depression era were able to further their craft instead of giving up art to look for “paying” jobs. In the budgets for public buildings erected during 1935-1943, one percent of the money was reserved for decoration. Most WPA oil painters were paid a weekly salary ($22.50) for their work.
When paintings were completed, they traveled in a circulating exhibit. After the exhibit, the government tried to find homes for the art in non-profit institutions roughly free of charge. Some of the works wound up in labor unions, hospitals, schools, or orphanages. There are no records of the artworks produced. When the Project was dissolved in 1943, anything in the warehouses was allocated out.
In contrast with eastern states’ art, Illinois WPA art was broad in nature, with artists producing abstract and semi-abstract, along with more traditional paintings. WPA paintings carried a brass tag in the lower frame that read Federal Art Project, WPA Art Program, WPA Federal Art Project, or Illinois Art Project. Frames tended to be of plain, light-colored wood.
WPA art is not necessarily worth anything more because it was once a part of the federal art project, but is worth something because it is art. Being a product of the WPA makes it a historical curiosity.
WPA Artwork at the Library
Badger, Frances S. (Reichmann)
CHIPPEWA INDIAN CAMP
CHIPPEWA INDIANS HARVESTING WILD RICE
Exhibited: Art Institute of Chicago, 1933-37, 1939. The John H. Vanderpoel Art Association, Chicago. Studied at The Art Institute of Chicago. Painted murals in Joliet and other areas in Illinois.
OLD SAW MILL ON LAKE MICHIGAN
Born 1865. Died 1945. Member of the Chicago Society of Artists, and the Arts Club of Chicago (The Chicago Ten). Exhibited at Art Institute of Chicago from 1920 through 1941.
FREIGHTER ON THE CALUMET
ALONG THE CALUMET
Born August 7, 1905, Fitzgerald, Georgia. Member: Chicago
Society of Etchers; South Side Art Association; Chicago Gallery Art. Work: National Gallery of Art.
Born September 18, 1911, Atlanta, Georgia. Died in Chicago, Illinois, 1970. Painter, printmaker, teacher, administrator. Active in Chicago in early 1930’s, in Rockford 1938-40. Studied: Under Francis Chapin and David McCosh; University of Georgia; Cincinnati Art Association; Art Institute of Chicago. Taught: Rockford, Illinois, Art Association 1938; Art Institute of Chicago, 1940. Member: Philadelphia Watercolor Club. Worked for: Federal Arts Project, Easel Division; Rockford Art Association as Director, 1938-1939. Exhibited: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Carnegie Institute; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art; Virginia Museum of Fine Art; San Francisco Museum of Fine Art; Art Institute of Chicago, 1942 (prize); Denver Art Museum; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Brooklyn Museum; Milwaukee Art Institute. Work: Phillip Memorial Gallery; University of Arizona; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; U. S. Government Collection Contributor; Magazine of Art.
Grumieaux, Louis P.
Born April 16, 1872, Charleroe, Belgium. Died January 21, 1953 in Downers Grove, Illinois. Studied: Art Institute of Chicago; Bourlard, in Belgium. Exhibited: American Painters & Sculptors Annual, Art Institute of Chicago, 1935; Artists Chicago Vicinity, Art Institute of Chicago, 1936, 1938, 1939. Worked on projects throughout Illinois during the Depression years
Johnson, Edwin Boyd
MURAL (SKETCH FOR THE PUBLIC LIBRARY – HILD BRANCH, 1935)
Born November 4, 1904 in Nashville, Tennessee. Johnson was one of twelve artists sent to Alaska in the summer and fall of 1937 by the WPA to produce oil paintings for a national touring exhibit to promote travel to Alaska. He was listed as a designer, muralist and field supervisor for that agency in Chicago in 1940. Studied: Kunstgewebe Schule, Vienna, Austria; Ecale de Fresque, Paris; Art Institute of Chicago; National Academy of Design; R.L.M. Hubert; L. Ritman; J. Norton; B. Anisfield; G. Oberteuffer. Member: Chicago Society of Artists. Exhibited: Chicago, 1930 (prize), 1940 (prize); Lathrop European Fellowship, 1930; Brooklyn Museum, 1935; Cincinnati Art Museum, 1939; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, 1939; Art Institute of Chicago, 1931, 1932, 1934-1938, 1941. Work: U.S. Post offices - Melrose Park, Illinois; Dickson, Tennessee; Tuscola, Illinois; University of Illinois; U.S.
Born June 6, 1904. Died 1992. Studied: Art Institute of Chicago. Member: Chicago Society of Art. Exhibited: Great Lakes Exchange, The Patteran, Buffalo, New York, 1938; Artists Chicago Vicinity, Art Institute of Chicago, 1938, 1939; World’s Fair New York, 1939. Work: Art Institute of Chicago.
Power, Ralph E.
CHICAGO MILLS 1818
THE OLD WINDJAMMER
Worked on Chicago WPA Easel Painting, Diorama, and Arts and Crafts Projects. Also involved in WPA administration.
Born April 17, 1899. Died in 1972. Member: American Arts Congregation. Work: Alice in Wonderland paintings, Chicago Public Library (various branches); Munroe, New York, and Jefferson, New York, high schools.
HISTORY OF ILLINOIS IN WOODCUTS:
MARQUETTE & JOLIET
LASALLE FORTIFYING ILLINOIS
CAPT. GEORGE ROGERS CLARK TAKES KASKIA
FORT DEARBORN MASSACRE
YOUNG ABE LINCOLN ENTERS COLES COUNTY ILLINOIS
RIVER & CANAL BOATS
LINCOLN IN NEW SALEM
LINCOLN’S SPRINGFIELD HOME
GENERAL GRANT’S HOME IN GALENA
OAK STREET BEACH
Born August 20, 1899, Streator, Illinois. Died 1986. Studied: Art Institute of Chicago. Exhibited: Art Institute of Chicago, 1940 (prize). Work: Library of Congress; murals: United States Post Offices in Chicago and Lemont, Illinois. Illustrator/Publisher: “Abraham Lincoln - Biography in Woodcuts,” 1933; “Benjamin Franklin - Biography in Woodcuts,” 1935. Position: Area Director “Hygeia,” 1942.
Born May 12, 1904, Omaha, Nebraska. Died February 1983. Painter and sculptor. Studied: Chicago Academy of Fine Arts; Art Institute of Chicago; Pupil of Federick Poole, J. Allen St. John. Work: Murals, Steinmetz High School, Chicago, Illinois.; Northwest Airlines, Seattle; Cook County Hospital, Chicago, Illinois; Hatch School, Oak Park, Ill; Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, Illinois.; mural, United States Post Office, Petersburg, Illinois. Exhibited: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1934; Denver Art Museum; Wichita Art Association; Kansas State College; Tulsa Art Association; Topeka Artists Guild; Salina, Kansas, Art Association; Art Institute of Chicago, 1935, 1936, 1938, 1940, 1944; Springfield, Massachusetts Museum of Art, 1938; Little Gallery, Chicago, Illinois; Chicago Woman’s Club, 1938.
The following books are available at the St. Charles Public Library.
353.00854 MAV The Federal Art Project in Illinois, 1939-1943. Mavigliano, George J. and Richard A. Lawson. 1990.
700.97309043 MEL Engendering Culture: Manhood and Womanhood in New Deal Public Art and Theater. Melosh, Barbara. 1991.
709.043 ART Artists at Work [videorecording]: A Film on the New Deal Art Projects. 1981.
709.73 CON Tradition and Innovation in New Deal Art. Contreras, Belisario R. 1984.
709.73 OCO The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs. O’Connor, Francis V., ed. 1972.
751.73 MAR Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression. Marling, Karal Ann. 1982.
769.559 DEN Posters of the WPA. DeNoon, Christopher. 1987.
Oversize 751.73 BEC Art for the People: The Rediscovery and Preservation of Progressive and WPA-Era Murals in the Chicago Public Schools, 1904-1943. Becker, Heather. 2002.
The following books are available through interlibrary loan from other libraries as noted.
709.73 MAC The New Deal for Artists. McKinzie, Richard D. 1973. (Franklin Park)
700.973 MEL Violins and Shovels: The WPA Arts Projects. Meltzer, Milton. 1976. (Itasca)
709.73 OCO Art for the Millions. O’Connor, Francis V., ed. 1973. (Villa Park)
751.730973 PAR Democratic Vistas: Post Offices and Public Art in the New Deal. Park, Marlene and Gerald E. Markowitz. 1984. (Glen Ellen)
759.13 B The American Scene: American Paintings of the 1930’s. Baigell, Matthew. 1974. (Batavia, Geneva, Glen Ellyn)
New Deal Art During the Great Depression.
By the People, For the People: Posters From the WPA, 1936-1943.