Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > By the People, For the People

[Detail] See America. Alexander Dux

Historical Comprehension: Anthony Velonis and Serigraphy

Posters were lettered and pained by hand prior to the 1930s. Anthony Velonis, an artist with the Federal Art Project, learned the silkscreen process while working in his brother's sign shop, and he transformed production methods around 1936. The Special Presentation, "Posters for the People," from the American Memory collection, The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theatre Project: 1935-1939, explains that Velonis "saw that he could adapt the industrial silk-screen process - already used for printing commercial displays and banners - for high-volume, multicolor poster production."

This new production technique, along with the ambitious art direction promoted within the FAP, allowed for greater artistic expression and experimentation in poster design. The work of individual artists of the era is available by browsing the collection's Contributor. For example, Anthony Velonis produced nine posters, including advertisements for the Federal Theatre Project's production of "Macbeth" and a call for "better public housing to reduce infant mortality."

Velonis sought to distinguish between the commercial purposes of the silkscreen poster and artistic endeavors by coining the term, serigraphy, to describe the process of fine-art printmaking. Art critic Carl Zigrosser popularized the term without crediting Velonis and serigraphy later became a popular technique among artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.

This collection's Special Presentation, "Posters from the WPA: Tony Velonis" features a brief video recording of a 1994 interview with Velonis discussing why he didn't want credit for coining the term, serigraphy, and explaining his personal experience in the FAP: "I couldn't imagine a better art university than the people that came together at that time."

  • How did the development of serigraphy influence the creation of posters?
  • What types of fonts and images did artists employ to convey their messages?
  • How do the poster styles for public services such as housing and health compare to advertisements for performances of the Federal Theatre Project?
  • How does the work in this collection compare to later serigraphs by artists such as Rauschenberg and Warhol?