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Saturday Art: The New Deal, Federal Art Project

Unknown artist, beneficiary of FAP, in CT State Library

(Picture courtesy of Connecticut State Library at

On this Labor Day weekend, we’re visiting one of the valuable projects of the New Deal recovery from the depression.

One part of the New Deal that benefited the community at large was the support of artists, and decorating public buildings with their work.

The Federal Art Project (FAP) was the visual artsarm of the Great Depression-era New Deal Works Progress Administration Federal One program in theUnited States. It operated from August 29, 1935, until June 30, 1943. Reputed to have created more than 200,000 separate works, FAP artists created posters, murals and paintings. Some works still stand among the most-significant pieces of public art in the country.[2]

The program made no distinction betweenrepresentational and nonrepresentational art.Abstraction had not yet gained favor in the 1930s and 1940s and, thus, was virtually unsalable. As a result, the program supported such iconic artists as Jackson Pollock before their work could earn them income.[3]

The FAP’s primary goals were to employ out-of-work artists and to provide art for non-federal government buildings: schools, hospitals, libraries, etc.

The Treasury Department administered a part of the arts program known as The Section.

The Section sought entries that reflected local interests and events, and the Section encouraged the artists to think of the communities, not the Section, as the artists’ “patron.”[2] Indeed, artists awarded commissions were encouraged to visit the community to ensure that their murals reflected the community. Although many of the artists did not make such visits, it was common for artists to correspond with the town (as well as the Post Office Department and the Section). Some local communities rejected the approved designs, and the artists would work to respond to these concerns and save their commissions.[2]

The spread of art into public domain gave a chance for any person who just looked up a chance to elevate thought and see something worth the time to take a look.

When Governor LePage of Maine announced removal of murals that showed working people, the outcry from historians and those involved in public service was long and loud, and finally, effective. The murals were returned to public display but not their original location in the state’s Labor Department lobby where they had hung from previous administrations in Maine.  Those were not, however, actually New Deal era murals.

The 11-panel mural had been bolted to the walls in the Labor Department building since 2008, when Democratic Gov. John Baldacci was in office. It was created by artist Judy Taylor, of Tremont, using a $60,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Below is a mural that was not removed, “Shipwreck at Night” painted in 1939 by Alzira Peirce, one of many decorating public buildings from the project.

(Picture below courtesy of Jimmy Wayne at

South Portland, ME, WPA mural

The New Deal mural at La Guardia Airport was painted over in the 1950’s, but in the 1980’s a return to some sense of reverence for the country’s treasures caused it to be restored.

(Picture courtesy of  hobo matt at

“Flight’ by James Brook, largest WPA mural
Marine Terminal at La Guardia Airport


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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.