New Deal Art Exhibit to Open at WIU Art Gallery Jan. 18
January 8, 2014
MACOMB, IL – A new exhibit opening at the Western Illinois University Art Gallery Saturday, Jan. 18 will highlight the University's collection of Federal Art Project pieces.
"A New Deal for Illinois: The Federal Art Project Collection of Western Illinois University," will run through Saturday, March 1. The works were commissioned as part of the 1930s Public Works of Art Project and the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA).
The exhibit, featuring 40 works from the University's collection, has been organized by the WIU Art Gallery and is sponsored by the WIU Foundation and WIU emeriti faculty members Bill and Jo Sanders.
Guest curated by Knox College Associate Professor Gregory Gilbert, the exhibit has previously been on display at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, IA, as a companion exhibit to "1934: A New Deal for Artists," an exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution, which ran from Sept. 28 – Jan. 6.
"'A New Deal for Illinois' highlights a number of important historical issues with both national and regional importance for American visual culture during the 1930s," said Gilbert. The collection of Western Illinois University does reflect a number of themes that were prevalent in the federal art projects, especially American Scene images of rural farms in the Midwest. However, the collection is also unique in that it showcases the thematic and stylistic diversity of federal art produced in the 1930s.
Gilbert said the WIU collection includes artistic themes that are central to the nation's political, economic and social concerns during the Depression years.
"Many of these art works also reflect the school's close relationship to the surrounding rural community of Macomb and McDonough County," Gilbert said. "Themes of rural farms and industry in the Midwest were highly relevant to the surrounding region when many farmers and manufacturers were struggling financially during the Depression, receiving much needed support from federal agencies like the WPA and the Farm Security Administration. The installation of art of campus was in keeping with the institution's progressive support of art within higher education."
University Art Gallery Director Ann Marie Hayes-Hawkinson said the idea for the WIU exhibit was born when she was previously employed at the Figge and WIU Vice President for Advancement and Public Services Brad Bainter brought up the idea as a way to showcase the work in the University's collection.
In order for the exhibit to take shape, conservation work needed to be completed on several pieces in the collection. That work was completed in 2013 by The Conservation Center in Chicago with help from the fundraising campaign where interested patrons could sponsor the cost of restoring an individual piece of work.
"We are pleased to see many works in this important collection of the University Art Gallery conserved and shared," Bainter said. "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."
Conservation treatment ranged between $500 and $4,000 per work. The pieces were transported to Chicago in May to be ready for the Figge Art Museum exhibition, which opened in September.
"A lot of the works, especially the works on paper, were in fairly good shape," Hayes-Hawkinson said. "However, several paintings needed considerable work. In fact, we have three paintings that are so fragile the conservators recommended we not travel the works to Davenport. We hope to find sponsors for these paintings. We are fortunate to have the original records for each work in the WIU Archives, as well as some correspondence with the Illinois Art Project administrators during the 1930s."
The WIU College of Fine Arts and Communication (COFAC) held an April 2013 event to explain the conservation project and to thank the sponsors already on board. WIU's University Television office also became involved, telling the video story of the process of readying the collection for exhibit. The story is scheduled to air on Macomb cable Channel 3, for Comcast subscribers on the following dates and times:
• Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 6 a.m.
• Thursday, Jan. 9 at 5 p.m.
• Saturday, Jan. 11 at 2:30 p.m.
• Sunday, Jan. 12 at 6:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.
• Monday, Jan. 13 at 10 a.m.
• Tuesday, Jan. 14 at 7:30 a.m.
• Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 1 p.m.
• Thursday, Jan. 16 at 5 p.m.
A public opening for the exhibit will be held Tuesday, Jan. 28 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the WIU Art Gallery. April Hann-Lanford, vice president of Client Services at The Conservation Center, will speak about work completed on the WIU collection at 5 p.m. In addition, a lecture by Associate Professor Joanna Gardner-Huggett, of the DePaul University Department of the History of Art and Architecture in Chicago, titled, "Why the WPA Was Not Enough for Chicago Women Artists," will be held Tuesday, Feb. 4 from 7-8:30 p.m. in Tillman Hall, room 212.
Gardner-Huggett will speak about feminism and the role of female artists in Chicago, including Gertrude Abercrombie, an artist who is represented in the WIU Federal Art Project Collection. The lecture is co-sponsored by the Knox College Department of Art History and the WIU Department of Women's Studies.
Two gallery talks will be held throughout the life of the exhibit: Saturday, Feb. 1 at 2 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. Additional program information may be found at wiu.edu/artgallery and tours of the exhibit for any local group can be scheduled by calling the gallery at (309) 298-1587.
Also scheduled is a "Jazz & More" alumni event on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Social time runs from 5:30-7 p.m. in the third floor auditorium of Sherman Hall. A gallery tour of the New Deal collection will begin at 7:15 p.m. at the WIU Art Gallery. Event registration can be completed at wiu.edu/alumni.
"We look forward to a great evening bringing alumni and friends together for our social and viewing of the WPA exhibit," said Director of Alumni Programs Amy Spelman. "Our event at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport to kick off the exhibition was wonderful, with more than 100 people attending. Now, having the opportunity for our local area alumni and friends to share the experience and have a personal tour of the exhibit by Ann Marie Hayes-Hawskinson makes it even better than we had hoped. We thank her and the WIU Foundation for helping make it possible."
The Conservation Center also recently restored half of one of the wall murals in the third floor Sherman Hall auditorium. That work will be on display for the alumni event.
An exhibition catalog, written by Gilbert, the guest curator, is available. The catalog contains high quality color photographs of works in the exhibition, as well as a detailed history about how the collection was formed and whose work is contained in it.
"Although these paintings and prints may be appreciated for their aesthetic value alone, Western Illinois University also treasures the Federal Art Project Collection because of its historical importance," Hayes-Hawkinson said. "Like many institutions across the country, the University and the Macomb community benefited from the federal government's desire to bring art to large and small communities across the country. These works, which were hung in campus offices, classrooms and public spaces, speak to the power of art to educate and inspire during challenging times. Now, more than 70 years later, we believe the story behind the formation of this collection and the artists' stories will intrigue viewers."
The works created through the FAP-WPA began after the 1929 stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s. In 1933, federal economic relief efforts were extended to help create opportunities for artists with the creation of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP).
Through this project, WIU, then Western Illinois State Teachers College, received nearly $1 million from a variety of New Deal agencies to help with various projects. Former WIU President Walter P. Morgan and former WIU art department chair Polly Pottle helped navigate the New Deal programs, including helping commission murals and artwork for public spaces on campus.
The WIU collection now contains works by 27 artists, including Gertrude Abercrombie, Macena Barton, Aaron Bohrod, Howard Brown, J. Theodore Johnson, Archibald J. Motley, Jr., Gregory Orloff, Romolo Roberti, Charles Turzak and Ellsworth Young, among others.
The University's Art Gallery, located just north of Sherman Hall, is open from 9 a.m. – noon and 1 – 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 1 – 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The gallery is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Admission is free.