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Special Collections Research Center

Work Projects Administration (WPA) Collection

WPA Bird Image During the 1930s, there was catastrophic unemployement 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. 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.

A List of Artists and their Works in the WPA Collection - During the Great Depression, lasting from 1929 to 1939 in the USA, the government instituted federal projects to provide employment for workers. One of the programs benefited unemployed artists in the mid-1930s in sixteen regions throughout the nation. The Cleveland program was especially successful because of the enthusiastic support of local leaders in aiding talented artists.

 

Additional Resources

WPA Prints in Special Collections - an essay by Thomas Boyer - This essay illuminates the cultural value of the prints within the context of the Great Depression and underlines the importance of the resources available in our WPA collection of prints as well as papers in the Karal Ann Marling Collection.

Graphic Arts Processes - The Graphic Arts Processes demonstrates by explanation and example the process and product of planographic, intaglio and relief methods in print making.

African American Artists in the WPA Collection - Three African American artists are represented in our collection: Elmer W. Brown, Hughie Lee-Smith and Charles Sallee. The WPA provided an environment for their talents to be recognized and appreciated.

Women Artists in the WPA Collection - Seven women artists are represented in our collection. Women artists were able to develop and hone their creative skills in various media under the WPA program.

Ernest J. Bohn Collection - Ernest J. Bohn, Director of the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority, was especially supportive of the efforts of the WPA. Under his direction, the artists were able to soften the stark image of the public housing units with additions of color and whimsy.  (coming soon!)

Karal Marling Collection - Dr. Karal Ann Marling, while on the faculty at Case Western Reserve University, was instrumental in gathering and documenting the Cleveland WPS artists and their works. Her research resulted in an exhibit and exhibit catalog at the Cleveland Public Library in 1974 "Federal Art in Cleveland: 1933-1943." These documents are housed with the Ernest J. Bohn Collection in Special Collections.

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