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Women's Work: American Printmakers in the 1930s

July 18–August 23, 1992

Women's Work: American Printmakers in the 1930s is an exhibition of some 85 works drawn from the permanent collections. Among the artists represented are Peggy Bacon, Isabel Bishop, Lucienne Bloch, Caroline Durieux, Mabel Dwight, Wanda Gág, and Helen Lundeberg. It was organized by Ivy L. Barsky, National Endowment for the Arts Curatorial Intern, under the direction of John Ittmann, Mellon Foundation Visiting Curator of Prints. Though the onset of the Depression seemed to some to signal the death of culture in this country, the 1930s would prove to be a stimulating, generative period in American art. This exhibition presents prints made from the late 1920s through the early 1940s by women artists, many of whom worked under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which employed thousands of artists. The goal behind the Federal Art Projects, according to government statements, was "to integrate the artist into the mainstream of American life and make the arts both expressive of the spirit of a nation and accessible to its people." Printmaking, and especially lithography, was considered an appropriate medium for the times, being inexpensive and easily disseminated. Not surprisingly, the subject of much of the art made during the 1930s was work. The largest section of this exhibition is devoted to images of workers, exploring the conditions of both the employed and the unemployed, and including reflections on the identity of the artist as productive worker. Other sections show such themes as the effects of industrialization and urbanization; the relationship of women to domestic and work environments; social satires made as critiques of society and to combat poverty; and surrealist images, that reflect European influences and represent yet another strategy in addressing the turbulence of impending war. The final section of the exhibition deals directly with World War II, which brought an end to the WPA and this era of creative productivity.

Main Building


Ivy L. Barsky
John W. Ittmann

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