Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

13.6: Works Progress Administration Murals

  • Page ID
    31991
  • Artist

    Native Country

    Doris Lee

    United States

    Julius Woeltz

    United States

    Victor Arnautoff

    Russia

    Maxine Albro

    United States

    Humbert Albrizio

    Poland

    The 1930s in American history will always be remembered as the Great Depression and how the federal government implemented WPA (Works Progress Administration) Art Projects. The WPA created more than 100,000 pieces of art and over 18,000 sculptures around America. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt conceived of the idea when he wanted to combine art with patriotic American values. The WPA was originally created to provide economic relief to the people in the U.S. suffering from the Great Depression. It started in 1935 and lasted eight years, employing over 10,000 artists. An American scene was the only requirement in the design and painting of the murals, the artists were free to interpret the scene how they chose, but it had to represent American values on the wall in paint.

    Doris Lee (1905-1983) was an American painter known for her painting and printmaking skills, becoming one of the most successful artists during the depression. In Country Post, (13.71) Lee presents what she considers an idealized view of what farm life would be like in anywhere America, for example, the enjoyment of the people who are receiving mail from the town delivery person. Seeing two types of transportation, the traditional horse and a rare automobile might suggest the economy is going to pick up, and everyone can afford a modern form of transportation. The town church steeple in the background signified their faith and tradition while typical farm animals run through the foreground.

    Country Post
    13.71 Country Post

    Julius Woltz (1911-1956) was an American landscape painter and art teacher who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and painted the Bauxite Mines (13.72). Bauxite mining drove the economy of Benton, Arkansas, and after a tour of the mine, Woeltz designed this mural. Using a mixture of modern art movements, cubism, constructivism, and American scene painting, he created this exquisite painting of bauxite strip mining.

    The Bauxite Mines
    13.72 The Bauxite Mines

    Coit Tower in San Francisco, California, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. The tower was built by Lillie Coit, a philanthropist who wanted to dedicate a memorial to the firefighters of the 1906 earthquake and fire. The tower rises 210 feet and is made of reinforced concrete in the shape of an abstracted fire hose nozzle. The Coit Tower murals were completed in 1934 and created by many muralists, including Diego Rivera, Bernard Zakheim, Victor Arnautoff, John Langley Howard, and Maxine Albro.

    Victor Arnautoff (1896 – 1979) painted City Life, (13.73), a generic city street scene with a traffic accident, leftist newspapers, a fire engine, armed robbery in progress, and the San Francisco Stock Exchange. Arnautoff painted himself at the newsstand reading left-wing papers while excluding the San Francisco Chronicle. The central theme of the painting shows disregard for other people when living in a large city and the lack of concern when an accident or mugging is occurring.

    City Life
    13.73 City Life

    The Library (13.74) was painted by Humbert Albrizio (1901 – 1970), a Polish artist seeking asylum in America. An experienced muralist, Albrizio helped put together the project at Coit Tower. The scene is in a library with people reading an assortment of "questionable" books (according to the 1930s). The controversy around the mural began as soon as it was open for public viewing, and political debates continued for years.

    The Library
    13.74 The Library

    Maxine Albro (1893-1966) was one of the leading female artists in America and painted California (13.75, 13.76) for the Coit Tower project. Although born in Iowa and living in Los Angeles as a child, she received her art education in multiple schools throughout the world. Some of her murals were controversial for this period of time and were destroyed, the same fate suffered by other artists. Her mural in the tower reflected the abundance of crops, fruit, and grain growing in California.

    A picture containing indoor, table
    13.75 California (left side)
    California (right side)
    13.76 California (right side)