Art Restoration Project at WIU
April 5, 2013
MACOMB, IL - The Western Illinois University collection of Federal Art Project works will be included in the exhibition "A New Deal for Illinois: The Federal Art Project of Western Illinois University," which will be shown at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, IA, from Sept. 14 – Jan. 5. A catalog will accompany the exhibition.
WIU's Federal Art Project collection was formed in the 1930s when University officials commissioned works through the Public Works of Art Project, and later through the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA). The FAP's primary goals were to employ out-of-work artists and to provide art for non-federal government buildings: schools, hospitals, libraries, etc. The work was divided into art production, art instruction and art research.
WIU Art Gallery Director Ann Marie Hayes-Hawkinson said Macomb is fortunate to have this collection.
"We can thank President Morgan for having the foresight to bring art to campus through these federal programs," she said.
Commissioned works were used to decorate classrooms, hallways and other public spaces on campus. The WIU Art Gallery is now home for these works.
Some of the works in the collection are in need of conservation. Lead by Brad Bainter, vice president Advancement and Public Services, the university and private citizens have responded to a call for conservation. The exhibition and the conservation initiative represent Western's dedicated efforts to preserve and promote knowledge of the important historical legacy of New Deal art.
"The WIU Federal Art Project Collection is a significant resource, which includes a large number of prominent American artists from the 1930s and 1940s. The collection is a microcosm of the diverse themes and modernist styles produced in the Federal Art Project, which is usually associated with traditional realism and Regionalist subjects," said exhibition Curator Gregory Gilbert. Professor Gilbert teaches art history at Knox College in Galesburg, IL.
The exhibition highlights the government policies during the New Deal era. Gilbert noted, "A large number of women, African-Americans and artists from other minority groups were given an opportunity to pursue professional careers, giving them a sense of equality and cultural inclusion in American society."
Collection highlights include works by Archibald J. Motley Jr., Gertrude Abercrombie, Romolo Roberti and Aaron Bohrod.
The WIU collection also includes portraits by J. Theodore Johnson, of President Walter P. Morgan and Samuel B. Hursh, Western's first teacher of English literature and grammar.
"Showing our Federal Art Project collection at the Figge is a fantastic opportunity for the University," said Hayes-Hawkinson.
The WIU exhibition is a companion exhibition to "1934: A New Deal for Artists," an exhibition featuring similar works organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
"A lot of people will go to the Figge to see the Smithsonian works and will see the Western collection while they are there," she added.
WIU's FAP collection will return to Macomb in January, and the exhibition will be shown at the WIU Art Gallery from Jan. 18 - March 1, 2014.
"We are pleased to see this important collection of the University Art Gallery restored and shared," said Bainter. "We thank the sponsors for recognizing the value of these works to the institution and to the public, and for covering the cost of restoration."
Sponsored works will be sent to The Conservation Center in Chicago before the exhibition travels to the Quad Cities. To help visitors to the exhibition understand what art restoration entails, Hayes-Hawkinson and a University Television crew will visit Chicago to interview conservators. The program will be an educational component in both exhibitions.
"The Federal Art Project Collection works were created more than 80 years ago. We are excited to see how these works will look after restoration." Hayes-Hawkinson added, "By being a good steward of our collection, we are making sure future generations will be able to enjoy them."
Additional conservation sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information, contact Mick Cumbie, director of Development, College of Fine Arts and Communication, at (309) 298-2620.