Labor Day: Images From the Great Depression and the WPA

John Steuart Curry “The Mississippi”

John Steuart Curry “The Mississippi”

Here, in honor of Labor Day, is a collection of paintings and prints from the Great Depression. Images from the gorgeous to the grim, all fascinating.

The Depression was characterized by unemployment, homelessness, hunger, bankruptcies, home foreclosures, dust, drought, and inequality in the distribution of wealth. And the infrastructure was crumbling. Sound familiar?

Do you ever wish for some kind of reincarnation of the New Deal?  You would not be the only one.  According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman “A rational political system would long since have created a 21st-century version of the Works Progress Administration — we’d be putting the unemployed to work doing what needs to be done, repairing and improving our fraying infrastructure.”

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the WPA—Works Progress Administration, later called the Work Projects Administration—and it brought the country back to life.

The program was ingenious: by solving unemployment, it also solved the problem of the infrastructure. Millions were employed by the WPA building “651,087 miles of highways, roads and streets; constructed, repaired or improved 124,031 bridges; erected 125,110 public buildings; created 8,192 public parks and built or improved 853 airports,” according to a journalist from the Depression era.

And it took people off welfare. Harry Hopkins, the chief architect of the New Deal, said, “Give a man a dole, and you save his body and destroy his spirit. Give him a job and you save both body and spirit.”

Among those saved were artists.  Part of the WPA was the Federal Arts Project which put unemployed artists back to work painting murals and creating sculptures for public buildings. When criticized for including artists and other white collar workers in the WPA, Hopkins said,

Would you put them out in a ditch with a pick axe and make them like it… We decided to take the skills of these people wherever we found them and put them to work to save their skills when the public wanted them.

Thanks to this inspired decision, we can enjoy these wonderful works of art.

 (click images to enlarge)

123

Winold Reiss  (Commissioned for Cincinnati Union Terminal)

123

Harry Sternberg   “Chicago: Epoch of a Great City”

123

Bernece Berkman  “South Chicago” (Series #7).

123

Thomas Hart Benton  “Kansas City”

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt

123

Thomas Hart Benton  “Boomtown”

123

Rowena Fry  “The Parking Lot”

123

Lily Furedi  “Subway”

123

Archibald Motley, Jr.“The Liar”

123

Daniel R. Celentano   “Festival” (Little Italy)

123

Daniel R. Celentano  “Italian Harlem Street Scene”

123

Dox Thrash  “Ship Fitters”

123

Nicolai Cikovsky  “On the East River”

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt

123

Louis Lozowick  “Guts of Manhattan”

123

Harold Anchel  “Cafeteria”

123

Boris Gorelick  “Sweat Shop”

123

Fritz Eichenberg  “April”

123

Oscar Weissbuch  “American Scene”

123

Michael J. Gallagher  “Black Country”

43.46.92

Michael J. Gallagher   “The Wood Gatherer”

123

Manuel G. Silberger  “Labor”

123

Blanche Grambs  “No Work”

123

Joseph Hirsch  “Lunch Hour”

123

Thomas Hart Benton  “Mine Strike”

123

Hugo Gellert  “A Wounded Striker and the Soldier”

123

Minna Citron  “Strike News”

“The true conservative is the man who has a real concern for injustices and takes thought against the day of reckoning.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt

123

Conrad A. Albrizio  “The New Deal” Dedicated to President Roosevelt, 1934

There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.  Franklin D. Roosevelt

Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

Please help us do more. Make a tax-deductible contribution now.

Our Comment Policy

Keep it civilized, keep it relevant, keep it clear, keep it short. Please do not post links or promotional material. We reserve the right to edit and to delete comments where necessary.

print
12 Shares
Share10
Tweet
Reddit
Flip
+12
Email
Menu
[gravityform id="3" title="false" description="true"]