Field trip to Print and Photo Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

I took my Fleisher silkscreen class to the Print and Picture Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia to see silkscreen prints from their collection. The Print and Picture Collection is one of the treasures of the Parkway Central Branch, a rare hidden gem in Philadelphia. Curator Aurora Deshauteurs welcomes the visiting public to use the prints and photographs in the collection.  The collection includes thousands of prints and photgraphs spanning five centuries, from Albrecht Durer to Andy Warhol.

I visited Aurora in July to look through the catalog. I made a very long list of silkscreen artists I was interested in. When I returned in August, Aurora and her colleagues had pulled 20 or so folders of prints from which I made my final selection.

The tour started with 3 posters from their WPA collection. The Works Progress Administration was a program of the Federal government during the Great Depression focused on putting people back to work. In a far-sighted way the program included artists and architects. The Federal Art Program was one of the first U.S. Government programs to support the arts.  The WPA Poster Division produced posters that publicized exhibits, community activities, theatrical productions, and health and educational programs. The division had offices in seventeen states and the District of Columbia, with the strongest representation from California, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The WPA Poster Division had an office in Philadelphia. The WPA posters were great examples of graphic art. They also served as public service announcements at a time when the only media were newspapers, magazines and radio.  The Federal Art Project also promoted the use of silkscreen printmaking. Guy Maccoy and Anthony Velonis developed silkscreen printing techniques from the commercial world of advertising and merchandise packaging into a fine art printmaking technique. In 1940, Velonis, along with Carl Zigrosser, Curator of Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, devised the term serigraph, from the Latin “sericus” for silk and the Greek “graphima” for drawing.

We looked at two posters based on woodcuts by Robert Muchley, 1936-37. The Library of Congress has original woodcut prints in their collections, which can be seen at this link. While these are woodblocks, they have a lot in common with silkscreen imagery.

Visit the Aquarium is a poster that promotes the city’s aquarium, housed in the Fairmount Water Works on the banks of the Schuylkill River.

Port of Philadelphia is a poster that celebrates the commercial and economic vitality of the city’s port along the Delaware River.

The third poster we looked at is a public service poster by an unknown artist for the Philadelphia Housing Authority announcing affordable housing units at Tasker Homes at 30th and Tasker Streets.

Stay tuned to see posts about the other prints we looked at. Check out my tumblr feed at http://billbrookover.tumblr.com/ for some detail shots.

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