A NEW DEAL FOR THE ARTS A NEW DEAL FOR THE ARTS A NEW DEAL FOR THE ARTS
Introduction
About Exhibit
Rediscovering America
Celebrating The People
Work Pays America
Activist Arts
Useful Arts
Celebrating "the People"
Part 1


Always the heart and soul of our country will be the heart and soul of the common man.
--Franklin Roosevelt, campaign address, Cleveland,
Ohio, November 2, 1940

The economic crisis of the 1930s focused the attention of Americans on the lives and struggles of ordinary folk. MORE...

Everyday Life

In depicting the course of daily life, New Deal artists memorialized routine events such as waiting for a train or watching workers from a city window. MORE...

Alfred Castagne sketching

Michigan artist Alfred Castagne sketching WPA construction workers
By an unknown photographer, May 19, 1939

National Archives, Records of the Work Projects Administration
(69-AG-410)

The Riveter by Ben Shahn

The Riveter
By Ben Shahn, Treasury Section of Fine Arts, 1938
Tempera on paperboard

National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution,
transfer from General Services Administration
(77.1.77)

The Riveter was one of two works submitted by Ben Shahn for the competition to decorate the Bronx, NY, central postal station. It takes up 1 of 13 panels on 4 walls of the station. The entire work, entitled Resources of America, celebrated the skills of a variety of American industrial and agricultural workers. Shahn's theme was that human beings and their talents were as important to preserve as natural resources such as soil and water. Best known for his depictions of social issues, Ben Shahn also worked as a photographer for the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration.
Working Girls by Raphael Soyer

Working Girls Going Home
By Raphael Soyer, New York City Federal Art Project, WPA, 1937
Lithograph

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, National Archives and Records Administration
(MO 56-323)

Much of Raphael Soyer's work concentrated on scenes from the everyday experience of urban living. For inspiration, Soyer turned to the streets of New York City; for models, he would sometimes hire the homeless. His work has a sad, sentimental quality that, in the words of one critic, highlighted "a series of episodes in the lives of simple, even drab human beings." In Working Girls Going Home, the viewer is drawn to the women's tired faces, which are surprisingly similar to one another. Soyer shows them close up, but their faces reveal few details, and some are in shadow. This sense of anonymity and sameness is reinforced by the artist's choice to place the women's covered heads all at the same height.
El Station, Sunday Morning by Jack Markow

El Station, Sunday Morning
By Jack Markow, New York City Federal Art Project, WPA, ca. 1935-39
Lithograph

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, National Archives and Records Administration
(MO 56-271)

By the 1930s and 1940s, the "El" -- short for elevated railway -- was a common means of intraurban transportation. Several New Deal artists used "El stations" as the setting for their prints, paintings, or photographs. Jack Markow's lithograph captures the quiet solitude of an almost deserted Sunday morning rail platform at one of these stations, which appears to be situated in a working-class section of the city.
In The Dugout by Paul Clemens

In the Dugout
By Paul Clemens, Wisconsin Federal Art Project, WPA, 1938
Oil on masonite

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, National Archives and Records Administration
(MO 56-330)

Waiting for the Mail by Grant Wright

Waiting for the Mail
By Grant Wright Christian, Treasury Relief Art Project, 1937 38
Oil on canvas

National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, transfer from General Services Administration

Processing, delivering, and receiving the mail were common themes in New Deal murals. Many depicted advances in technology such as the development of air mail or memorialized major turning points in postal history. In Waiting for the Mail, the subject of a mural for the Nappanee, IN, Post Office, Grant Wright Christian chose instead to depict a familiar and private moment: a women waiting anxiously for a letter. A critique by a Treasury Relief Art Project advisory panel suggested adding the figure of a dog with an "eager expression" to relieve "the large area of fence [that] might prove monotonous." In the final mural, Christian also changed the dog's breed to a collie.

National Archives and Records Administration

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