Artists of the New Deal
At the start of the Great Depression, Arthur Dove, one of the most original early American Modernists, wrote to his agent. In his letters Dove expressed that he was willing to accept food as payment for his art work. The story is a haunting one — a creative genius unable to find support for his gift — an American so desperate that food became capital.
During the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration looked at artists like Arthur Dove and classified them as workers — workers who were in need of relief. Thus the Federal Art Project, a subdivision of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), was conceived. Artists who participated in the program were treated as wage laborers — they received a weekly stipend in return for producing a certain number of works within a particular time frame.
The WPA Federal Art Project was in existence form 1935 – 1943. During the program’s peak in 1936, over 6,000 artists were employed by the Federal government. The artists included in this exhibition were employed by the WPA during the Great Depression. Their artistic achievements are a testament to the Federal program which allowed them to continue to develop their creativity and personal style throughout the harshest of economic times.
Nat Little, Gravel Street, Mystic. Oil on canvas
Walt Kilam, Italian Garden. Oil on canvas