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.

Woman’s Holy War


I really enjoyed working with both google forms here and combining it with the concept of historical thinking in this case. This gives students a more individualized and engaging way for them to practice historically analyzing and depicting an image or document.

I like this assignment most for providing a way of engaging with historical thinking more than anything else. Growing up in history classes, especially as I got into middle school, high school, and college, for the first time I began to get an understanding of how history was more than just memorizing facts and dates. I began to realize that history was more like being a detective and coding information, whether it be source, context, or any of the other five, to be able to reconstruct the story in ways that are more accessible to others. This can only be truly done if we teach students and take time to analyze documents using these historical thinking strategies. Also, in my personal experience, it is such a cool experience to be able to know an historical happening for more than just the bare bones of what it is. I always enjoyed being able to understand where something fit in context, what came before that led to it, and the effects that happen after. I would even go to say that for some, it may be more engaging and rewarding to be able to think historically to map out the whole picture rather than focusing and then forgetting certain individual pieces of the puzzle.