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American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints from the 1930s and 1940s

American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints from the 1930s and 1940s

The American Scene was a vibrant artistic movement during the WPA era, a period framed by the crash of the stock market in 1929 and the escalation of American involvement in World War II around 1943. The WPA era was defined by the Great Depression and by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal for the American people. To address the crisis of mass unemployment, the U.S. government instituted a series of public works programs which aimed to put Americans back to work. Federal support for the arts began in 1933 under the U.S. Treasury Department, followed by subsequent relief programs including the Works Progress Administration (later the Work Projects Administration) under the Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) from 1935 to 1943. The U.S. government encouraged artists to portray the American Scene in artworks intended for display in public buildings, or for allocation to tax-supported institutions such as the Free Library of Philadelphia. Notably, the American Scene was part of larger movement towards cultural democracy during the 1930s, which aimed to connect American artists with American audiences, and to integrate fine art into the lives of ordinary American citizens.

Image source: Raymond Steth, Beacons of Defense, 1941, Lithograph, 14 1/2" x 21 9/16", Free Library of Philadelphia, Print and Picture Collection, WPA 10-0021

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