WORLD PROGRESS ASSOCIATION: THE NEW DEAL WPA POSTERS REIMAGINED, New Works by Barbara Shenefield
Looking to the variety of posters produced by artists during the New Deal era (1930s) in the Works Progress Administration (WPA), I use a vocabulary of Americana depicted in varying degrees of sophistication yet all bearing unmistakable messages of American possibility. The messages of the posters I'm creating today are not so different from those of the New Deal era:
- National Parks Are for Everyone, Preserve Nature (environmentalism)
- Government Health Departments Will Help Keep you Well (the public good)
- Be A Citizen (democracy demands participation and an educated populace)
- The Working Man and Woman Are the Engine That Runs This Country
Some of my posters re-purpose imagery from those 1930s WPA posters, others are entirely new, but all will likely have a familiar look to them, and ring a bell with anyone at all familiar with the WPA and the art, theater, music, sculpture, architecture, cinema and literature it inspired. Many artists such as Jackson Pollock, Jacob Lawrence, Willem de Kooning, Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella and Mark Rothko were seedlings nourished early in their careers by WPA support who went on to build a USA that became world dominant in culture.
The WPA paid dividends over the generations, and still does. My World Progress Association posters (obviously named as a wink and a nod to the Works Progress Administration) will update the words and images of the WPA era posters. Rather than being protest posters, which have pointed and direct critical messages on them, my posters will be more in the spirit of the New Deal, intended to:
- exhort us to greatness
- celebrate the nobility of work for the public good
- call out our necessary roles as participants in a democratic society
- acknowledge the dignity of honest toil
- honor the precious treasure of our natural resources and environment
Take them as a call to action.
I have followed Barbara Shenefield’s work for a long time. It usually focused on beloved local and regional places and meaningfully recalled a powerful sense of place. She is a well-known local designer/artist, and her work is respected and admired throughout the region. Last year I visited her studio with colleague Fenella Belle and saw pieces from The WORLD PROGRESS ASSOCIATION. I knew I had to show them. Visually, the work was interesting and definitely had a 1940ish WPA (Works Progress Association, created during the depression by FDR to put artists back to work) feel. Shenefield’s aesthetic mark was clearly present. The content was updated but felt universal and timeless. It reminded me of who we are as a country and the values we all share. The work was positive but also thought provoking. How could I resist?
The show was meant to be in the PVCC Gallery along with the work of local legend, Frank Walker. Covid had its way with us and we are showing Ms. Shenefield’s work online and will be showing Mr. Walker’s work next year.
We are very happy to share this work with you and hope you find it as beautiful, interesting and meaningful as I do. If you are interested in purchasing a piece ($400 each), please contact the artist directly at email@example.com. The prints are 13"x19" and are printed in vibrant colors on matte finish paper on a high resolution printer. The results are much like a silkscreen print.
Thanks to Fenella Belle, Dean Leigh Keniston, Maggie Flinn and Bill Hurd for their support.
Beryl Solla, Curator