Federal Art Project

Did you know the Federal Government employed more than 5,000 artists during the New Deal era under the Works Progress Administration? Some of our nation’s most recognizable artwork was produced by WPA sponsored artists during this period, including the iconic posters for the National Park Service.

Yellowstone National Park – C. Don Powell, Designer, 1938
Source: Library of Congress – http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.13399

The Posters That Almost Weren’t

Posters like this one are a specific type of print called a “silkscreen” in which a pigment is brushed across a mesh, or screen, to create a colored image on an underlying sheet of paper. The process allows for numerous color copies to be made of the same image, though not without limitations. Silkscreening must be done in stages, one color at a time. Each color screen must be lined-up precisely for the image to come out correctly.

A total of 14 images were selected for print to commemorate America’s National Parks between the years of 1935 and 1943. Of 1,400 original color prints, only 41 exist today. Many were tucked away in attics and garages until the conservation efforts of a few enthusiasts tracked them down for the purposes of preservation. Five of the prints, including this one of Yellowstone, are located in the Library of Congress. The remaining posters are in private collections across the globe. We are grateful for the efforts of those who sought to protect these treasures for the enjoyment of future generations.

One Reply to “Federal Art Project”

  1. Casey! I think this post is very creative because it involves students placing themselves in the shoes of the artist to see why they made some of the choices they did (such as using minimal color). I think it definitely has the potential to make this content more meaningful for students. Also, I love how you included how scarce these prints are today; for me, that was really interesting to read. Really awesome post 🙂

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