Early Modern Art in regards to The Great Depression

Soon after the stock market crashed in October of 1929, the Great Depression began. America had been facing recession before this point, but it could not have been prepared for the drastic consequences that would quickly unfold. Up to 15 million people found themselves unemployed. Compare this 25% unemployment rate to the current 5% that our country now faces. It is almost unimaginable.

The Great Depression was characterized by hunger, destitution, job loss, business loss, and a dissatisfaction of the government. It effected the country at large, the family, and the individual.

Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 and quickly developed a strategy to fight the economic downfall. The New Deal was put in place to help restore America, and in the process of doing so, mended the relationship between the government and the people. The Works Progress Administration was a created as a result of the New Deal and proved to be the most determined agency of the likes, successfully administering millions of jobs to the unemployed, as well as giving opportunities to artists, through the Federal Project Number One. One of the five divisions of the project was the Federal Art Project.

Here is a very exciting piece to feature in my exhibit.


The “Alaskan Landscape” painting was commissioned by the WPA Federal Art Project. The mural was painted in 1942 by Arthur Kerrick and currently resides on the first floor at the courthouse in Anchorage, Alaska. The mural depicts a piece of land covered in grass and trees, centered in a lake. Upon closer examination, the realistic touches of homes and boats prove to be an added delight to the painting. Mountains are captured as a forefront to the piece. The mountains feature many dimensions, creating a unique and standout finish. The colors are rich and deep and were created using oil paints. Although the mural is in fact beautiful, I believe that it cannot compare to the mountains that I recently experienced on a road trip to Denali. Nonetheless, it depicts what is reckoned to be a in a small community within Alaska, and accurately so.
Enjoy a closer look:




California benefited from many art pieces as a result of the Federal Art Project. San Francisco, in particular, is well-known for its many WPA commissioned art pieces. “Noah and His Ark” was painted in 1938 by Dorothy Puccinelli, with assistance from Jay Risling and John Collier. It is a mural located on the north and east walls at “Mother’s House.” This piece was painted using egg tempura on plaster. I am reminded of the felt boards from Sunday School, not only in subject matter, but in painting style.  The definition of the clouds and light shining down from heaven, is very unique when compared to the art pieces that we have studied in previous eras. It is very animated. There is beauty in the “childlike” memories that come with reviewing this painting.


Lest we not forget the challenges that America and other effected countries faced in these times.


Dorothea Lange is responsible for this photo which was eventually titled, “Migrant Worker.” The quality of this photograph is brilliant and speaks to the advancements in technology, especially when considering the year it was taken- 1936.

Please watch this video to hear more about Dorotha Lange as well as discernment that led taking of the “Migrant Worker.”

Here is a note on the photo from Dorothea Lange:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).

In one photo, the hardships of the time are captured. No words are needed to describe the piece, yet so many come to mind in observing it. I notice the beauty of the mother and the love for her children that is reciprocated by her children, regardless of the turmoil surrounding them. There are a few other photos from this scene that I will attach, as I feel this specific photo is very intriguing and brings understanding of the times.

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In my initial choosing of this topic, I imagined that all of the art pieces that I would find would be similar to Lange’s photographs.However, I believe that the pieces commissioned by the Federal Art Project via WPA capture part of the heart of America. America was able to pull itself out of one of its most difficult times by capturing and creating beauty.. all at the same time.


Wikipedia contributors. “New Deal.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 8 Jul. 2015. Web. 20 Jul. 2015.



Natanson, Barbara O. “Exploring Contexts: Migrant Mother” in American Women: A Gateway to Library of Congress Resources for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the United States. Web site: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/awpnp6/migrant_mother.html (accessed: July 19, 2015)

Cole, John Y. “Amassing American “Stuff”: The Library Of Congress And The Federal Arts Projects Of The 1930S.” U.S. Library Of Congress Quarterly Journal 40.4 (1983): 356-389. America: History & Life. Web. 20 July 2015.





  1. bsmcnutt · July 20, 2015


    I’d like to add that I really enjoyed the little tidbit of California and how San Francisco was able to benefit from the Federal Art Project. I am actually from Northern California (Sacramento to be exact) which is very close to San Francisco, so it’s kind of cool to read about something that is so close to home! Thanks for adding that in, I thought it was pretty interesting.

    I also really enjoyed the Alaskan Landscape in your exhibit. What I first noticed about this piece was that it seems to look more animated and cartoon like rather than real. However, I’m not sure if this was the artist’s intention or not.

    I recently went to Denali as well. Being from California, I was absolutely shocked and amazed at how beautiful the mountains were! The landscape of Alaska is truly breathtaking, and I think the piece you chose for your exhibit represents that perfectly.

    Great job this week, as always 


  2. kjlundell · July 22, 2015

    It did not even occur to me to try and find art here in Anchorage! I mean I assume there is, but the pieces did not connect in my head. Now l’ll be looking for it! I love the piece you found at the courthouse. From looking at and researching art from this era, it fits right in. The contrasts of light and darks of the same colors are so eye catching and beautiful.
    The second I started reading the segment on the felt Sunday school art, I was transported back to those memories. That is really the perfect way to describe much of this artwork in my opinion.


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