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August 29: The Federal Art Project

August 28, 2015

nurse-baby-c1936The Federal Art Project, an arm of the Works Progress Administration established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in relief of the Great Depression, was launched on this date in 1935. During eight years of operation, it would include within its ranks such iconic artists as Adolph Gottlieb, William Gropper, Philip Guston (Goldstein), Morris Kantor, Lee Krasner, Abraham Lishinsky, Louise Nevelson, Diego Rivera, Mark Rothko, Ben Shahn, the Soyers (Isaac, Moses, and Raphael), and many other Jews and part-Jews. The project paid nearly ten thousand artists to create murals, paintings, sculpture, public-service posters, photographs, theater sets, and arts and crafts for post offices, museums, town halls, and other public spaces nationwide. Artists were paid $23.60 a week; their work included research and instruction. Some 200,000 artworks, including 18,000 sculptures, were created through the Federal Art Project, which operated in all 48 states of the U.S. Of these, only 20,000 have been catalogued, though many more works are thought to be hidden and forgotten in libraries and other facilities. In December 1943, the U.S. government auctioned off thousands of WPA-funded paintings in a warehouse in Queens. Paintings were sold by the pound.

“Herbert Benevy, the owner of a local frame shop... purchased a large number of paintings for a total of $3 a canvas. Among those he bought were paintings by Milton Avery, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.” —The Art Story