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Prints from WPA Program Focus of Art Exhibit at Juniata Art Museum

(Posted September 8, 2008)

"Market Argument," by Albert Jones Webb, was one of more than 200,000 prints created for the Works Progress Administration.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- At the height of the Depression, as part of his New Deal economic program, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Project Administration as a means to put people to work in fields related to their private-sector careers. A few years later the WPA created the Federal Arts Project to create thousands of public art projects and give artists paying jobs.

The Juniata College Museum of Art is displaying a variety of art prints from this celebrated project in the exhibition, "WPA Graphic Works from the Amity Foundation Collection," which runs from Thursday, Sept. 18, through Nov. 1 at the museum on the Juniata campus.

The exhibition was created by the Amity Art Foundation Inc., based in Woodbury, Conn. There will be an opening reception at the museum at 5 p.m.

Prior to the reception, John Stewart, founder of the Amity Art Foundation, will give a short talk, "WPA Printmaking and Its Influence on American Printmakers," at 4:15 p.m. in Neff Lecture Hall in the von Liebig Center for Science.

The Federal Arts Project put 5,000 artists, including painters, sculptors and printmakers, to work. The project produced 108,000 paintings, 18,000 sculptures, 2,500 murals and 250,000 prints. The approximate budget for the project, according to the Amity Foundation, was $35 million.

The federal print program was active from 1935 through 1943. Printmakers typically produced an artist's proof, which was approved by a workshop director, and put into production. The prints were usually produced in editions ranging from 25 to 75 and were used to decorate public buildings and government offices. The subject matter for the prints ranged from urban settings to rural scenes, but the overarching mission was to depict the common man at work and at play and to emphasize the democratic ideals of industry and hard work.

According to the General Services Administration more than 1,100 artists produced prints for the program. During the period the project was active, artists in the program perfected new methods of color lithography, color woodcuts and serigraphy. The renewed emphasis on printmaking in the WPA program helped create a vibrant medium for affordable artwork in the latter half of the 20th century.

The prints produced by the Graphic Arts Division were not well preserved after the end of the program. Some of the prints were destroyed, others were lost and some were used as scrap paper in the federal prison system.

The artists represented in the Juniata exhibit include Frank Besedick, Minetta Good, Riva Helfond, William Hicks, Beatrice Mandelman, Jack Markow and Theodore Wahl.

The Juniata College Museum of Art is located in historic Carnegie Hall at 17th and Moore streets in Huntingdon. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. For more information, please call the museum at (814) 641-3505, or visit the Juniata College Web site at http://www.juniata.edu/museum.


Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.