Life of the People: Realist Prints and Drawings from the Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Collection, 1912-1948
Capital and Labor
The division between capital and labor widened considerably after the Civil War as fledgling trade unions sought to assert the claims of their members against Gilded Age industrialists taking advantage of lax government regulations on issues of hours, health, safety, and compensation. Confrontations often turned violent and the widely reported brutal suppression of strikes by National Guard troops or private corporate armies raised public awareness and impelled intellectuals, middle class reformers, and even bohemian artists and writers to offer support to the labor movement. Until the outbreak of World War I and the development of the internal combustion engine gave new impetus to the American economy, doubts began to surface about the viability of capitalism itself. With the onset of the Great Depression those doubts returned.
Elizabeth Olds' sense of humor and study of satirical works by Honoré Daumier, William Glackens, and William Gropper are evident in this portrayal of scurrying businessmen, or "white collar boys." Olds first trained at the Minneapolis School of Art, and the Art Students League under Ashcan School artist George Luks. In 1932, while working for the Omaha Public Works of Art Project, she learned the process of lithography, from grinding the stones to cranking the printing press.
Miner Joe exemplifies Elizabeth Olds' mastery of screenprinting a commercial process which she helped develop as a fine art medium beginning in 1938. Joining the New York City WPA Federal Art Project in 1935, Olds later expressed the artistic aims of her generation in writing: "American artists have lately chosen to portray our own life. We find our subject on the streets, in the factory, the machines and workers of industry and on the farm. We aim to picture truly the life about us as the people we are in reference to the forces that make us. We choose all sides of life, searching for the vital and significant."
In this small, savage sketch, editorial cartoonist "Fighting Bob" Minor caricatured the capitalist magnates who ran New York, if not the nation, portraying J. P. Morgan (left), Andrew Mellon (center) and John D. Rockefeller (right) as avaricious men. Minor began his career as a cartoonist in 1904 and soon went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was exposed to the radical ideas that shaped his future. When, like many leftist cartoonists, he challenged America's intervention in World War I, he lost his position in the mainstream press. Minor gave up cartooning altogether in 1926 to become a Communist Party activist.
Harry Sternberg, who was born and grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, influenced generations of American realist artists and pioneered the artistic development of commercial print processes such as screenprinting and offset lithography through his activities with the American Artists' Congress and the WPA Graphics Division as well as by teaching graphic arts at the Art Students League from 1933 to 1968. He worked for the Federal Art Project in 1935-36.
Moses Soyer, twin brother of Raphael, enrolled in the WPA Federal Art Project as a painter in 1935. Best known for his work in this medium, he explored many genres from portraits to landscapes as a social realist. His lithograph Defense Workers, also called War Workers, sensitively depicts the tired dignity of laborers involved in the war effort.
Hugo Gellert considered his politics inseparable from his art, arguing that "Being an artist and being a communist are one and the same. One is as important as the other." The Working Day, which features a white miner standing back to back with a black industrial worker, is part of the portfolio Karl Marx in Pictures that Gellert published in France in 1933 with text from Marx's Das Kapital, which reads in part, "Labor with a white skin cannot emancipate itself where labor with a black skin is branded."
An anomaly among images in the Goldstein Collection in extolling the benefits of capitalism, Lenson's title is a quotation from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's campaign speech at a union dinner in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 1944. Born in Russia, Lenson enrolled in the National Academy of Design in New York in 1920. In 1928 he won the prestigious Chaloner Prize, supporting four years of art study at the Slade School of the University of London and at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He returned to the United States in 1933, joining the New Jersey WPA Federal Art Project as a muralist.
Full Production and Full Employment under Our Democratic System of Private Enterprise, ca. 1944. Michael Lenson, 1903-1971. Crayon and ink. LC-USZC4-6568 © Barry Lenson and David Lenson. (31)
Working women, unemployed men, and resting couples were among the people Isabel Bishop drew from her studio overlooking Union Square in New York. Bishop later recalled constantly peering out her window as she worked to ensure the veracity of her images. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Bishop grew up in Detroit but went to New York at the age of eighteen to enroll in the School of Applied Design for Women. She also took classes in the Art Students League and became associated with instructor Kenneth Hayes Miller and fellow student Reginald Marsh in what has been called the Fourteenth Street School.
With its forceful crayon strokes and an ironic edge, The Lord Provides reflects Jacob Burck's training under master political cartoonist Boardman Robinson. He absorbed Robinson's political radicalism, and his Fourteenth Street studio became a meeting place for leftists. Born in Poland, Burke emigrated with his family to the United States at the age of seven. After attending the Cleveland School of Art, he moved to New York, continuing his studies at the Art Students League. In 1938 he began a forty-four year run as editorial cartoonist for the Chicago Times, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1940.
In 1937, as president of the Artists Union, Harry Gottlieb heard Anthony Velonis propose to the WPA Federal Art Project that they establish a silkscreen unit. Gottlieb became a founding member of the unit in 1938, along with Louis Lozowick and Elizabeth Olds. Although silkscreen had been used by commercial printers for decades, these artists exploited its potential as a fine arts process. Going to Work conveys the dignified poverty of two workers through such narrative detail as ill-fitting clothing and shabby housing.
Under the auspices of the Federal Art Project, Anton Refregier brought images of labor strife to the public through murals created for post offices in San Francisco and Plainfield, New Jersey. San Francisco '34 Waterfront Strike is a silkscreen version of the mural entitled The Waterfront--1934 in the Rincon Post Office in San Francisco, for which Refregier received a commission in 1940 and which he completed in 1948 .
Clare Leighton helped revive the art of wood engraving in England and America. Born in Britain in 1898, she emigrated in 1939 to the United States. Over the course of a long and prolific career, she wrote and illustrated numerous books praising the virtues of the American countryside and the people who worked the land. During the 1920s and 1930s, as the world around her became increasingly technological, industrial, and urban, Leighton portrayed rural working men and women with strength and dignity. She reminded her viewers of the simpler values of hard work, fresh air, camaraderie, and community.
The defeated figure portrayed in No Work exhibits the emphasis Blanche Grambs' teacher Harry Sternberg placed on the depiction of the rawness of life during the Depression. Born in Beijing, China, to American parents, Grambs arrived in New York in 1934 with a full scholarship to attend the Art Students League. In 1936 she joined the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, earning enough money to maintain her studio on Fourteenth Street, an area where many radicals congregated.
Victoria Hutson Huntley won first prize at the Philadelphia Print Club's National Exhibition in 1933 for Koppers Coke. Writing of the print two years later, she said, "It is difficult for me to gage [sic] accurately the exact time period necessary for me to complete a lithograph. Sometimes I spend days on a relatively small area--putting tone on tone in order to arrive at the richness of value and texture which I find necessary. . . . I worked a week just on the sky of Kopper's (sic) Coke and that included nights as well."
Meyer Wolfe created his first series of lithographs, entitled American Negro Life, in 1934 while employed by the Public Works of Art Project. In Tuesday--Othelia he depicts a woman, possibly a laundress, in the weekly activity of ironing clothing.