For Immediate Release:
WHAT: Art for Hire: Prints from the Minnesota WPA
WHERE: Tweed Museum of Art,
University of Minnesota Duluth
WHEN: June 30, 2009 – May 16, 2010
What does the current economic environment and Roosevelt’s New Deal programs of the 1930s have in common? Everything, according to a new exhibit at the Tweed Museum of Art. Art for Hire: Prints from the Minnesota WPA presents lithographs by Minnesota artists employed by the Works Progress Administration, 1933-43. Artists from all over the state participated, and received weekly paychecks to produce paintings, prints, murals, sculpture, and to teach classes and workshops. WPA programs did not dictate the imagery artists created, but these prints can be readily grouped into common themes. Some focus on the negative effects of the Depression – abandoned farms, unemployed workers. Others, like Henry Bukowski’s Road Builders, depict New Deal public projects that created jobs. The values of small town, rural and farm life are celebrated in other images, and yet another group of works is more experimental, based on European modernist art styles.
Tweed is not the only museum mining its collections for Depression-era material – as a recent exhibit at the Minnesota History Center proves. In light of the current economic crisis in the U.S., museums across the country are researching and exhibiting regional artworks funded by the Federal Government programs during Roosevelt’s administration. They are finding that the messages of these works – despair, hope, and a return to essentials – are fitting for our times.
Muralists, printmakers, sculptors and painters were paid to produce artworks which were then distributed to schools, museums and public buildings in every state. The prints exhibited by the Tweed Museum, for example, were first distributed to the Duluth State Teachers College in the 1940s; other local WPA print collections reside at the Duluth and Superior Public Libraries. Art centers were established to teach classes and organize workshops in art and music appreciation, theatre and traditional crafts. In Minnesota, these included the Duluth Art Institute and the Walker Art Center, which was revived by WPA funding after being all but closed during the Depression.