Braving the Worst of Times
[imgbelt img= cyndy-juan320.jpg]In the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Roosevelt put the nation to work — employing even artists, who left us a vivid record of that dreadful, hopeful time.
The paintings in this exhibit were created for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), a cultural program operative during the fall and winter of 1933-34. The PWAP was part of Roosevelt’s multi-pronged experiment to relieve the 25% unemployment rate and heal the country’s economic distress. A forerunner of the better-known Works Progress Administration (WPA), the PWAP employed 3,749 artists and produced 15,663 works of art — paintings, sculptures, murals, prints, and drawings — at a cost of $1,312,000. Fifty-five of these works are in the current exhibition; three of them hung on White House walls during FDR’s administration.
[imgcontainer left] [img: cyndy-albright320.jpg] [source]Smithsonian American Art Museum
Farmer’s Kitchen exposes the fear and emotional uncertainty of the time. Albright’s aging woman embodies weariness borne of a lifetime of hard work. With no relief in sight, no guarantee of financial security in her final years, the farmer’s wife faces the same dawn to dusk kitchen labor that has been her lot for decades. Now her hands are gnarled and her face grotesquely creased with years. Her stringy gray hair is pulled back in a fraying bun. The stove and pot beside her are reminders of the work yet to be done.
[imgcontainer left] [img: cyndy-juan320.jpg] [source]Smithsonian American Art MuseumJuan Duran, by Kenneth Adams
Less dramatic, but with the same conflicting message of anxiety and optimism, is Ross Dickinson’s Valley Farms. At first glance, serene green fields are a pleasant and interesting contrast to the stark, orange, treeless mountains. But on closer look, smoke from distant and foreground fires wafts upward, threatening the tranquility of the fertile farmland. During the early ‘30s, Dust Bowl farmers migrated to California to find work. The sudden influx of competition for farm jobs during a time when the country was already suffering severe financial losses was hard on Californians. So, what appears to be a beautiful rural setting, in fact, hints at impending danger and fear of uncontrollable outside sources.