Rockford Art Museum

Rockford, IL



WPA Collection at Rockford Art Museum


Approximately 100 pieces of art created by Depression-era artists went on display at Rockford Art Museum May 21, 1999 when the WPA exhibition opened. The exhibition, sponsored by Sjostrom & Sons, runs through Aug. 22, 1999.

Rockford Art Museum Curator Scott Snyder, who first saw the collection at a Chicago exhibition, said he was intrigued by the WPA works because they reminded him of school history lessons.

"The government really helped people stay employed and in positive spirits through both employment and recreational activities," he said.


The New Deal and the WPA

President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" program was established in 1935 as a means of jump starting the country back to prosperity. The "Works Progress Administration" (WPA) segment of the New Deal was designed to provide employment opportunities and morale-boosting recreational programs. An emphasis was placed on developing public works facilities, perhaps the most widely-known being the Hoover Dam.

Locally, WPA employees constructed the Armory, Levings Lake and park (1935), airport runways at Camp Grant (1939), outbuildings in Alpine Park and Sandy Hollow Golf Course, and a mattress plant located at South and Pleasant streets (1938), among others. The WPA can also be credited for the installation of municipal lighting in the city and upgrades to fire stations. One of the last WPA projects completed in Rockford was the removal of streetcar rails (1943).

Starting in 1935, the WPA hired more than 3,000 people to work in recreational and social programs like the Salvation Army, the Boys Club, Booker T. Washington Center, St. Elizabeth Center and the YWCA. School lunch programs and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra (1935) were established by the WPA as well.


Federal Art Project

The "Federal Art Project (FAP)" of the WPA provided work for artists, many of whom gained recognition and launched successful careers as a result. FAP artists depicted American themes like Rural and Urban America, The American Worker, Social Realism, A Stolen Moment, and A Modern Sensibility.

Approximately 75 Illinois artists were involved with the program, and in 1943 when the WPA ended, a tally indicated that nearly 5,000 paintings, 500 sculptures and 200 murals had been created in Illinois alone.

Most of the FAP pieces were displayed in tax-supported businesses and institutions. In the years that followed, more than 400 FAP works of art found a permanent home at the Illinois State Museum. The collection comes to Rockford on loan from the State Museum and offers a glimpse of history.

Images from top to bottom: Louis Lozowick, Bridge Repair, 1938, lithograph on paper, WPA/FAP: Graphics, NYC; Simon Gordon, Baseball Players, plaster, WPA/FAP: Sculpture, Illinois; Macena Barton, Leaves, 1938, oil on canvas, WPA/FAP: Easel, Illinois; Bernece Berkman, South Chicago Series #2, 1937, opaque watercolor on paper, WPA/FAP: Easel, Illinois.

Read more about the Rockford Art Museum in the Resource Library.


rev. 10/18/10

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