From the category archives:

Graphic Design

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was the largest and most ambitious agency created by the United States government as part of the New Deal, established under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to help combat the Great Depression, focusing on the “3 Rs” of Relief, Recovery, and Reform: relief for the poor and unemployed, recovery of the economy, and reform of the financial systems already in place to help prevent another depression. In total, over 100 offices were created – some established by Congress, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, and some through Roosevelt’s presidential executive orders, including the WPA.

The goal of the WPA, headed by Roosevelt’s close friend Harry Hopkins, was to create jobs for millions of Americans who were eligible for employment. The WPA operated in conjunction with state and local governments, which helped cover a percentage of the costs and provided supplies, while the WPA was responsible for the majority of costs and for the workers’ wages.  

Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA employed more than 8.5 million workers to carry out public works projects including the construction of hundreds of thousands of miles of highways and roads, bridges, reservoirs, irrigation systems, parks, playgrounds, and over 125,000 public buildings including hospitals and schools. Notable projects built under the WPA include the Lincoln Tunnel, LaGuardia Airport, and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. A smaller division of the WPA, called Federal Project Number One, employed musicians, artists, writers, actors, and directors for arts, drama, and media projects.The WPA program was ended on June 30, 1943, due to low employment because of the worker shortage caused by World War II.

During the Great Depression, unemployment in the city of Milwaukee was at roughly 40 percent, and in 1933 an astonishing 53 percent of property taxes went unpaid because people couldn’t afford to make their payments. The WPA launched the Milwaukee Handicraft Project in 1935, under the direction of Elsa Ulbrecht, the Fine Arts Director of Milwaukee State Teachers College, with the goal of creating by hand high quality educational materials for schools that taught arts and crafts. The project hired roughly 5,000 workers and taught them to make a variety of wood and cloth items including dolls, toys, furniture, rugs, curtains, book-bindings, quilts, textile prints, and costumes. The women were assigned to specific production units, each led by an experienced artist or designer. The items were then sold at cost to educational and tax-supported institutions, including the Milwaukee Public Schools, libraries, and local hospitals.

The Milwaukee Handicraft Project was one of the most successful and innovative of the WPA’s various programs. The vast majority of workers hired by the WPA for its public relief projects were white men, but the Milwaukee Handicraft Project attempted to balance this disparity. Most of the workers hired for this program were uneducated and unskilled women of all ages and nationalities, many of whom had never held a job. A large number did not even speak English. Only certain jobs were considered appropriate for women at the time, and so Harriet Pettibone Clinton, the District Director of the Women’s Division of the Wisconsin WPA, deliberately chose to create a project in which the vast numbers of unemployed women could freely participate.

The WPA also sent a group of 300 African-American workers to participate in the project, intending them to have a segregated workspace. However, the program directors were opposed to this idea and insisted that the women and minorities work side-by-side. The integrated workforce made the Milwaukee Handicraft Project unique in its progressive and forward-thinking mindset.

One of the production units was the blockprinting unit, which grew out of the bookbinding unit when the lead designers decided to create decorative book covers using linoleum block prints. They created patterns which the workers then transferred to linoleum blocks and cut away to create stamps. These blocks were then inked and stamped onto paper and fabric. They were designed to be labor-intensive, so as to help guarantee the women with many hours of paid work. F.A. Bernett currently has in its inventory a suite of six portfolios displaying samples of the various handmade blockprinted textiles created in the workshops of the Milwaukee Handicraft Project.

Applied Design: Blockprinted Textiles. An Educational Service Prepared by the Milwaukee WPA Handicraft Project. Milwaukee.- Milwaukee WPA Handicraft Project. 6 vols: I. Surface Patterns; II. Surface Patterns; III. Motifs; IV. Border Designs; V. Motifs; VI. Supplement, comprising a suite of portfolios containing 72 total examples of matted blockprinted textiles in a wide variety of patterns and styles, including figures, animals, birds, botanical, and geometric designs, the back of each matte stamped “WPA Handicraft Project #7040, Milwaukee Wisconsin, Sponsored by Milwaukee County and Milwaukee State Teachers College”, the inside front cover of portfolios 1-4 and 6 labeled “This portfolio was made by the Milwaukee Handicraft Project, Sponsored by Milwaukee County and Milwaukee State Teachers College, Wisconsin WPA”, portfolio five stamped “WPA Handicraft Project #8601, Milwaukee Wisconsin, Sponsored by Milwaukee County and Milwaukee State Teachers College”. Portfolios 1-3 folio, 4-6 elephant folio. Green cloth-covered boards portfolios, contents loose as issued. Milwaukee (Milwaukee WPA Handicraft Project) n.d. (circa 1935). Ex-library copy with bookplates, labels to covers, rubber ink stamps to portfolios and mattes, and pencil acquisition notations to mattes. (48655)

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Cuba, OSPAAAL (Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America), 1971 and 1972 

Extensive and Culturally Significant Archive of Approximately 500 Political Posters. An important, unique, and carefully curated collection of political posters, dated from approximately the 1960s to the 2000s, from a wide variety of leftist and militant groups in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, related to a broad range of domestic and international movements and issues, providing an essential overview of the global political climate at the time with regards to radicalism, solidarity, and liberation. Some with scattered soiling, marginal tears, tack holes, and other minor losses, overall excellent condition. Various sizes. Various cities, 1960s-2000s.

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France, MRI (Mouvement Revolutionaire Internationaliste), 1980s

This collection documents a vital period in the history of both Western Europe and Third World countries in the second half of the 20th century, a time of political upheaval, domestic terrorism, radical left-wing groups, and liberation movements. The posters that make up this collection can be roughly divided into three categories. First, a large number of the posters document the struggle of the militant left at home within Europe, with movements from Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and Ireland covered including Antifaschistische Aktion, RAF (Red Army Faction), RZ (Revolutionäre Zellen), Secours Rouge, CCC (Cellules Communistes Combattantes), CPN (Communist Party of the Netherlands), Kraakbeweging, RVF (Rood Verzetsfront), AFAPP (Asociación de Familiares y Amigos de Presos Politicos), Moviment de Defensa de la Terra, FRAP (Frente Revolucionario Antifascista y Patriota), Circolo Lenin Catania, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Republican Army. These posters cover a range of issues, including the treatment of political prisoners, hunger strikes, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-NATO, urban development, housing shortages, squatters, election reform, the women’s movement, and the labor movement.

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Netherlands, Communistische Partij van Nederland, Circa 1965

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Ireland, Irish Republican Movement, Circa 1980

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Germany, Autonomen Gruppen/Antifaschistische Aktion/RZ (Revolutionäre Zellen), 1984

A second large group demonstrates the solidarity of Western European groups for the assorted liberation movements and uprisings happening across the Third World. These include posters from CISNU (Confederation of Iranian Students National Union), Chili Komitee Nederland, Komitee Jongeren Voor Vietnam, MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola), Inlichtingen Angola-Comité, Palestina Komitee, Solidariteits Komitee Argentinie Nederland, UJPA Belgique (Union des Jeunes Progressistes Arabes), Collectif Pour la Libération de Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, Comité Catalá de Solidaritat Internacionalista, Asociacion de Amistad y Solidaridad con El Pueblo Saharui, Halkin Kurtulusu, MPP (Mouvement Populaire Perou), Association de Solidarité avec Timor Oriental, and MRI (Mouvement Revolutionaire Internationaliste).

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Netherlands, Palestijnse Vereniging, 1976

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Spain, Circa 1980s

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Netherlands, MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola), Circa 1975

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Netherlands, Vietnambeweging Delft, Circa 1973

Lastly, the third group of posters represents the political climate within the Third World countries themselves, including organizations such as the Cuban group OSPAAAL (Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America), FMLN from El Salvador (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front), Partido Comunista del Peru, ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia), FATAH (Palestinian National Liberation Movement), PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), PFLP (People’s Liberation Front of Palestine), GUPW (General Union of Palestinian Women), PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party), YJWK (Patriotic Women’s Union of Kurdistan), ERNK (National Liberation Front of Kurdistan), and YAJK (Free Women’s Army of Kurdistan).

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“Either Palestine…Or Hell”, Palestine, FATAH (Palestinian National Liberation Movement), 1983

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El Salvador, FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front), 1980s or 1990s

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Peru, Partido Comunista del Peru, 1986

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Palestine, P.L.O. (Palestine Liberation Organization), Department of Information and Culture, 1980s

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Naples, September 1974.

“Anni di piombo” (“The Lead Years”) has little nostalgic resonance in the US. Unlike “Mai ‘68”, which instantly evokes exhilarating scenes of French student occupations, demonstrations, police brutality, wildcat strikes, riots, and barricades. (And perhaps some fervent threesomes if you made it through Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.) While Mai ‘68 appears retrospectively as both the unfulfilled apex and mythic nativity for so many –isms of the late twentieth-century, the tumultuous anni di pombo are largely overlooked despite the radical political and cultural activity maintained by the Italians for a decade after similar movements had withered in France and the United States. [click to continue…]

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Under the Matzos Tree.

May 9, 2014

52 Examples of Jewish-American Sheet Music from the Early 20th Century. A collection of English-language sheet music, ca. 4-8 pp. each, in orig. color illus. wrrps., most published in New York, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, or Los Angeles, ca. 1900-1920. (47699) “Under the Matzo Tree: A Ghetto Love Song,” “Yiddle on your Fiddle Play Some Rag […]

Contest of Realism. Novyi Lef.

Thumbnail image for Contest of Realism. Novyi Lef. March 11, 2014

Novyi Lef. Zhurnal Levogo Fronta Iskusstv. Year 1, No. 1 (January 1927) through Year 2, No. 12 (December 1928) (all published). 24 issues, published in 22 vols. as issued, comprising a complete first edition of the Soviet avant-garde monthly designed by Alexandr Rodchenko under the editorial direction of Vladimir Mayakovsky, followed by Sergei Tret’iakov, each […]

Conjuring Pan: Julius Meier-Graefe’s darkly beautiful paean to the new currents of art in Europe, 1895-1899.

Pan. Cover detail. March 22, 2012

Pan.  Years I-V (all published). Edited by Julius Meier-Graefe and Otto Julius Bierbaum.  A complete run of all five years, bound in 21 parts as issued  (altogether 347, 351, 266, 267, 279 pp.)  Sm. folio.  Orig. wrpps., a few chips and tears at edges, some covers professionally repaired.  Berlin (Genossenschaft Pan) 1895-1899.  (45601) In the […]

“Sem au Bois” Update: The Jockey Club de Paris, ca. 1908.

Thumbnail image for “Sem au Bois” Update: The Jockey Club de Paris, ca. 1908. June 7, 2011

“And if you happen to be an historian of Belle Epoque Paris (clever you) and recognize anyone among the caricatures, please let us know in the comments field…”

— UPDATE, May 2011:

When first I wrote about Georges “Sem” Goursat’s 1910 leporello Sem au Bois about a year ago, I ended the post with an invitation, asking readers to share any insights they might have as to the real-world identities of the faces caricatured in Sem’s well-heeled crowd of Boulogne woods revelers.

Last week, Pablo Medrano Bigas, Associate Professor of Design and Image of the imatge de diagramacióFaculty of Fine Arts at Universitat de Barcelona answered the call. Clever him, indeed. And lucky us — not only has he positively identified several of the processional’s key figures, he’s also supplied a wealth of historical background information to further our understanding the illustration’s form and content.