Various Projects by the Federal Arts Program

images and descriptions courtesy the Nat'l Archives


History of Southern Illinois
Paul Kelpe
Illinois Federal Art Project, WPA, ca. 1935-39
Though much of Paul Kelpe's art tended toward the abstract, his mural for the Southern Illinois University Library followed the prevailing American Scene style. This work describing the history of industry, agriculture, and commerce in southern Illinois is typical of many New Deal murals. The mural looks back to a supposedly simpler time when pioneers triumphed over adversity and built the nation through hard work, community, and strength of character. The results of all this industry--the growing fields, the commerce on the river, the school, even the children--are offered as proof that progress and community were achieved despite frontier conditions.

Fishermen's Village
Edmund Lewandowski
Wisconsin Federal Art Project, WPA, 1937

Untitled Winter Scene
Ceil Rosenberg
Public Works of Art Project, 1934
Rosenberg's untitled Chicago street scene was typical of American Scene artists who worked in an urban environment. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), for which Rosenberg worked, discouraged art that was abstract, controversial, or swayed by foreign influences.

The Riveter,
Shahn Fine Arts, 1938
Ben Shahn's theme was that human beings and their talents were as important to preserve as natural resources.

In the Dugout
Paul Clemens
Wisconsin Federal Art Project, WPA, 1938

Waiting for the Mail
Grant Wright Christian
Treasury Relief Art Project, 1937-38
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.