What I Saw: American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints of the 1930s & 1940s

American Scenes: WPA-­‐Era Prints of the 1930s and 1940s at La Salle University Art Museum

American Scenes: WPA-­‐Era Prints of the 1930s and 1940s at La Salle University Art Museum

The La Salle University Art Museum is another of Philadelphia’s hidden treasures. Begun in 1975 as a teaching collection for the school’s art history department, the museum  develops  lively and engaging exhibitions, with extensive programming for the academic community as well as for the general public. The latest show, American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints of the 1930s & 1940s, is on view through May 30, 2014.  The exhibition features prints drawn from La Salle’s collection and as well as prints borrowed from the Free Library of Philadelpha’s Print and Picture Collection. In 1943, the Federal Art Project – Philadelphia Division deposited more than 1400 works of art (prints, posters, drawings and watercolors) with the Free Library.  20 fine art prints in the show are drawn from this collection. A further 27 prints are from La Salle’s collection. In addition to work by WPA artists, La Salle has collected prints circulated by the Associated American Artists and the Cleveland Print-a-Month Club. All these activities were aimed at increasing the democratic reach of art by making it affordable for a larger market and accessible to the wider public. The Federal Art Project gave out-of-work artists a regular pay check, and hired a diverse group of artists – women and African Americans as well as white males – to produce art for public buildings and for display in tax-supported institutions. Artists portrayed the issues of the day: labor, economic progress, recreation, adversity and hard times, the Dust Bowl, and urban and rural life. The prints in the show present a diversity of subject matter through a wide range of printmaking techniques – wood engraving, woodcut, etching, and lithography. There are examples of carborundum mezzotint process developed by Dox Thrash in the Philadelphia printmaking workshop. There is work by Thomas Hart Benton, Charlotte Angus, Elizabeth Banks, Bessie Rigrodsky, Edward Palmer, Horatio Forjohn, Michael Gallagher, Raymond Steth, Benton Spruance, and Hale Woodruff. The Museum has produced an excellent catalog, available from Amazon and Lulu. In addition to scholarly articles that expand the themes of the exhibition, each piece is illustrated and described with catalog and label information. As a companion, the Free Library has mounted an excellent online exhibition that will remain accessible after the show closes on May 30. The Museum is a little out of the way, and only open on weekdays, but it is well worth a visit. The Museum is located on the lower level of Olney Hall on the campus of La Salle University at 19th Street and Olney Avenue. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday   through Friday.   Admission is free, though donations are accepted.  Please call to schedule group visits. Special tours can be arranged. For further information call 215.951.1221 or visit their website at http://www.lasalle.edu/museum/.

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