"The WPA was established in 1935 as a coordinating agency for projects designed to assure employment in as many fields of work as possible, including the arts. Because artists, like other unemployed workers, could apply for WPA programs, art was recognized as an occupation important to society and, for printmakers. Project support included access to government sponsored workshops equipped with presses, materials and, when needed, instruction.
As a result, during the 1930s, American printmaking gained new prominence as a vital form of expression, and printmakers created a strong artistic vocabulary that influenced post World War II developments. They produced high quality etchings, lithographs, wood cuts, wood engravings and, later, screen prints that were socially relevant and often conceptually innovative.
All FAP sponsored works were intended for distribution to public buildings, including schools, libraries, and hospitals. In contrast to easel paintings, sculptures, and permanently installed murals that were one-time, unique events, each print image was replicated in editions of at least 25 (or more) impressions. Prints, therefore, were a practical and inexpensive means of complying with the Project's defined mission to make original works of art accessible to the general public.
Artists responded directly to the troubled conditions that were experienced to some extent by the country's entire population, but most profoundly by the middle class majority, and prints could effectively communicate the Depression experience, in visual terms, to a large and artistically unsophisticated viewing public. Because painting and sculpture could achieve only limited exposure while prints had a large and diverse audience, many Project administrators supported printmaking as the logical process for creating art for the people." - American Printmakers and the Federal Art Project by Mary Francey
Federal Arts Project (FPA)
One of the more unique subsets of the WPA was the Federal Art Project (FAP). This program was intended to put artists back to work. The Project’s main goal was to help those many desperate artists who had become unemployed by commissioning large murals and other pieces of art for government buildings, and by offering relief to artists in need who would use the money to continue their craft which would then be displayed at FAP art shows and museums.
Among the main aims of the Federal Arts Project was to invoke familiar images that spoke of shared values and American progress, including technological wonders, fertile farmlands, small town life, and big city vibrancy. Additionally, the program hoped to foster the role of the arts in public life and to bring the artist closer to everyday, American life. The Federal Art Project tended to favor more realistic styles, including Social Realism and Regionalism, although many of the younger painters were able to execute more abstract work in some of the mural designs.
Artists also had a mostly positive view of what the project was doing in a large scale. As thankful as they were for what it did for them personally, they also saw the value of the project to the rest of the country and American culture. One mural artist, Harold Lehman, said, “The basic thing about mural painting is that it’s a message that the artist is giving to the public and, in turn, the message must be received by the public. This kind of give-and-take is an extremely important and valuable one, to both the social and artistic life of this country.” They saw the good that the project could do and what they could do as part of the project. As artists, they understood the value of art in society and saw that the Project had the unique ability to get American art to reach national attention.
In 1937 Harold, then Harold Anchel Rosenberg, applied to the WPA. In order to apply he said he had to change his name as only 2 family members were allowed to be in the WPA. He dropped his last name and flipped the order of the other two, becoming Harold Anchel. His first job in the WPA was counting chickens, but he was soon accepted into the arts project because of his interest in art and dance. He learned how to make lithographs and soon became the youngest member of the lithography project.
He produced well over 25 lithographs for the project. The Metropolitan Museum of Art now owns 17 of them. His subject matter included portraits (often of family members or friends) and city scenes. He portrayed outdoor scenes in parks and recreation areas and indoor scenes in restaurants, theaters, and in the subway. His style was Social Realism and perhaps his experience in the progressive dance group performing in works like Hunger, Strike and On the Barricade, enhanced this view of life.
A workshop equipped with work-tables, and the presses necessary for printing, has been established at 6 East 39th Street in New York. Sixty-one men and women had been assigned to work there, with materials provided by the Federal Government, to make lithographs, etchings, wood engravings, linoleum cuts and drawings. Their work, when finished, would be allocated to museums, schools, hospitals, and other tax-supported institutions at a nominal price. The price covered only the cost of the materials used. Thus the project was in part self-liquidating. Through this nominal charge for the prints the workshop was expected to generate a small income in order to offset federal spending. the WPA was wary of being accused of spending money unwisely and had wished to publicly advertise their prudent economic strategies.
At the workshop, artists were given the opportunity to work side by side with some of the greatest contemporary printmakers, such as Stuart Davis, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Adolf Dehn, Louis Lozowick, Boris Gorelick, Jack Markson, Raphael, Isaac Soyer, and Samuel Margolis. Anthony Velonis was part of the project and brought the art of fine art silk screen to the WPA. Harold in the early 50's worked as a fabric designer and used this technique which he must have learned from Velonis.
One of the supervisors of the Graphic Arts Division in New York City, Gustave Von Groschwitz, remembered years later that when working for the project “there was a wonderful camaraderie among the Project artists that was shared by the staff. All of us wanted the Project to succeed; we wanted to please the public and win approval of Congress. The way to do that was to work hard and do your best.”
The Public and the FAP
The general public was also very happy with the Program and what it produced. Even those not involved in art in any way or who had any background in art expressed their gratitude. In response to budget cuts of the program in 1936, one citizen wrote a letter directly to the President of the United States, President Roosevelt: “For the first time in my career as a voter I am moved to write a letter…I’m a grocery clerk, employed by a chain-store outfit. But whether I sell or buy bread, I firmly believe that we do not live by bread alone. When I go to the gallery on 57th Street, and look at the prints of the Graphic Arts Show, I know that for the first time in the history of American cultural development, art has found a proper patron.” Even those who had no personal stake in the arts felt their lives being enriched by the program and were moved to express their opinions of the program. The FAP generally received support from the American public.
1939 World's Fair
The Works Progress Administration hosted a building at the New York World's Fair, 1939-1940, featuring "documentary presentations of the achievements of the Works Program as a temporary alleviation of mass unemployment." Exhibits included live demonstrations of wool spinning and weaving, wood carving, garment work, and pottery making; the WPA's Contemporary Art Building displayed nearly 1000 works of art by living American artists. The building included an open courtyard and bandshell for music and theatrical performances, as well as a small indoor theater which presented short plays created as part of the Federal Music and Federal Theatre projects. Two visitors' books record the names and addresses of visitors to the WPA building, as well as their remarks on the exhibits. Also included are an undated list of books relating to unemployment, ostensibly compiled by WPA staff members, and key plans of the building - http://archives.nypl.org/mss/17773
Harold Anchel participated in this exhibition by demonstrating the art of lithography. Here is a program published in the NY Times for the events at the fair.
"10 AM - Graphic Worshop. Lithography demonstration by Harold Anchel, Woodcarving by Joseph Rajer, Sculpture by Julius Fallai, American Art Today"
The Print Process
Harold did many sketches before he executed a lithograph "Graphic artists were a little more tightly held [then the other fine art projects], as they were obliged to submit a sketch of their planned work before obtaining a go-ahead signal. Whether this arose from the fact that the medium made it possible, or whether it was motivated by the greater propensity of the graphic artist to be a commentator, and that this was feared, I don’t recall." To the right is a sketch Harold made for his lithograph The Seance.
Artist collaborated closely with professional printers to produce a limited number of proofs, which were submitted to a committee of project supervisors. This collaboration was important because many of the professional artists lacked the technical training and the patience to independently print editions of their own work. Jacob Kainen, a member of the project wrote “since we watched and took part in all the printing processes, we became familiar with the operation of a print workshop. This experience proved to be valuable later on when we had to qualify for jobs in the print field.” By working closely with professional printers, artists absorbed the practical and technical skills they needed to print their own work in the future.
Printworks came to play a special role in this era. “In contrast toeasel paintings, sculptures, and permanently installed murals thatwere one-time, unique events, each print image was replicated ineditions of at least 25 (or more) impressions. Prints, therefore,were a practical and inexpensive means of complying with theProject's defined mission to make original works of art accessible tothe general public. Artists responded directly to the troubledconditions that were experienced to some extent by the country'sentire population, but most profoundly by the middle class majority,and prints could effectively communicate the Depression experience,in visual terms, to a large and artistically unsophisticated viewingpublic. Because painting and sculpture could achieve only limitedexposure while prints had a large and diverse audience, many Projectadministrators supported printmaking as the logical process forcreating art for the people." - American Printmakers andthe Federal Art Project by Mary Francey
Other artists in the project: