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Special Collections Research Center

Women Artists in the WPA Collection

During the 1930s, there was catastrophic unemployment in the country. A federal project was put in place in 1935, called "Work Projects Administration" which would utilize the skills of out-of-work employees helping them to earn a small wage to survive. In Cuyahoga County alone, 47,000 people were assigned to work on a variety of projects from the Cleveland Zoo, the waterworks, highways and streets, the airport, to the parks, recreation sites, cultural gardens and public housing. Previous efforts had begun in 1933, to assist unemployed artists under the Public Works of Art Project established by the Treasury Department. The country was divided into sixteen regions, one of which was the Cleveland region. Two people were instrumental in the success of the Cleveland effort: William M. Milliken, Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Linda A. Eastman, Director of the Cleveland Public Library. The significant benefit of their collaboration and leadership was a regional approach to art that exemplified and identified the "Cleveland Scene." In 1935, the Works Progress Administration, took over the support of artists on relief and hired hundreds of workers for the Federal Art Project in music, theater, writing and art. The Federal Art Project alone employed 350 Cleveland artists. The WPA projects were discontinued in the early 1940s due to the consequences and effects of the wartime economy.

The Cleveland artists were creating murals, mural sketches, easel paintings, ceramic sculpture, plaques, sculpture, graphic arts and photographs as well as furniture and toys . Women played a significant role in the creation and composition of the art that was produced. In an exhibit catalog entitled Federal Art in Cleveland 1933-1943, for the Cleveland Public Library exhibit in 1974, 21 women were listed as active artists in the program. In the Special Collections Research Center, representative works of seven women are included in the WPA Print Collection: Jolan Gross-Bettelheim, Gladys Carambella, Alice Haber, Florence Korda, Antonina Mancuso, Marguerite Root, and Dorothy Rutka. Three of these artists have works that are highlighted in this exhibit: Jolan Gross-Bettelheim, Gladys Carambella, and Dorothy Rutka.

Jolan Gross-Bettelheim, 1900-1972

Jolan Gross-Bettelheim came to the United States after studying in Budapest, Vienna, Berlin and Paris. Moving to Cleveland in 1925 she became a student of Henry Keller at the Cleveland School of Art. She was active in art circles, participating in the May Shows at the Cleveland Museum of Art and joined the WPA arts project in 1936. In 1938 she moved to New York where she lived until 1959 when she returned to her native Hungary. Her works were very popular and were shown in major exhibits across the United States. Her prints are powerful political statements incorporating industrial subjects of mills, bridges and factories.

 
Dilapidated Section
Lithograph, 9 3/4" x 11 3/4"

 
Employment Office
Lithograph, 11" x 8 1/2"

 
Factory Houses
Lithograph, 13" x 10"

 
Gates and Bridges
Lithograph, 11 1/2" x 8 1/2"

 
Industrial Section
Lithograph, 13 1/4" x 9 3/4"

 
The Yard with Poles
Lithograph, 13 1/4" x 9 1/4"

 
The Yard
Lithograph, 11" x 8 1/4"

 
Under the High Level Bridge
Lithograph, 10 1/2" x 7 3/4"

 
Blast Furnace
Lithograph, 14" x 10 1/4"

 

 

Dorothy Rutka, 1907-1985

Dorothy Rutka moved from Michigan to enroll in the Cleveland School of Art, graduating in 1929. She worked as a portrait painter, a writer and illustrator before joining the graphic arts project with the WPA in 1936. Her works were included in major exhibits as well as solo exhibitions around the country. The prints in our collection exhibit her sensitive portrayal of of cultural aspects of society as well as the poverty and deprivation of those suffering from the effects of the Depression, as obvious from the titles "Poverty," "Eviction," and "Striker's Wife." She was married to Philip Porter, executive editor of The Plain Dealer. Tragically, they were killed by intruders in their home in Shaker Heights.



  Poverty
, Aquatint, 8 1/2" x 10 7/8"

 
Applecreek Farmer
Aquatint, 8 1/2" x 5 3/4"

 
Conference
Aquatint, 9" x 7 1/4"

 
Dead Trees
Aquatint, 11" x 8 1/2"

 
Department Store
Aquatint, 9" x 7 1/4"

 
Eviction
Aquatint, 11" x 8 1/2"

 
Flood
Aquatint, 11" x 8 1/2"

 
Melting Pot
Line Etching, 6 1/4" x 6"

 
Negro Head
Aquatint, 4 1/2" x 6"

 
Siesta
Aquatint, 11" x 8 1/2"

 
Strike Talk
Aquatint, 6 3/7" x 8"

 
Striker's Wife
Aquatint Crayon, 8" x 6 1/4"

 
Under Bridges
Etching, 11" x 8 1/2"

Gladys Carambella,

Gladys Carambella was a talented artist interested in illustrating children's stories. She began as a ceramics artist in the WPA project, trained by Edris Eckhardt, a professional ceramicist and sculptor. Carambella was best known as a designer of murals for schools, nurseries and hospitals. Her murals could be found in many locations in Cuyahoga county. In the Prospectus of Work for Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority in 1939, her sketches for "Christmas Day," "Thumbelina," and "Snow Queen" were included. Her prints in our WPA collection are colorful and charming scenes of children and depictions of children's stories.

 
Eskimo Children
Colored Stencil Hand Colored with Blue Paint, 10 1/4" x 8 1/2"

 
Mowgli and His Brothers
Colored Stencil Hand Colored with Green Paint, 13 1/4" x 11 1/2"

 
Navajo Children
Colored Stencil Hand Colored with Blue Paint, 13 1/4" x 10 1/2"

 
Snow White and Rose Red
Stencil, 13 3/4" x 9 1/2"

 

For further information, please refer to the following resources:

  • Landau, Ellen G. Social Realism in the 1930s: WPA Prints in Cleveland. Curated by the CWRU Undergraduate Art History Majors Seminar under the direction of Professor Ellen G. Landau. Booklet accompanying the exhibit, 1992.
  • Marling, Karal Ann et al. Federal Art in Cleveland 1933-1943. Cleveland Public Library, 1974. Exhibit catalog accompanying the exhibit, 1974.
  • Robinson, William H. and David Steinberg, et al. Transformations in Cleveland Art 1796-1946. Community and Diversity in Early Modern America. Cleveland Museum of Art, 1996. Exhibit catalog accompanying the exhibit, 1996.
  • Van Tassel, David and John Grabowski. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Indiana University Press, 1987 and 1996.

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