Eclectic posters designed through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s and early 1940s are on display at the James A. Michener Art Museum
from April 25 through August 2, 2009. On view in the Pfundt Gallery, Work, War & Wilderness: Pennsylvania WPA Posters 1937-1943 showcases posters from the collection of Bucks County resident Laurence Miller, owner/director of the prestigious Laurence Miller Gallery in New York City. Miller's unique collection includes posters that celebrate Pennsylvania history, industry and wildlife, as well as revealing and thought-provoking images from the war years.
"What started out as a federal program to keep artists employed during the Great Depression unwittingly resulted in a truly unique art form," explains Brian H. Peterson, Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator at the Michener Art Museum. "Though the subject matter of these posters was restricted, the artists were allowed incredible freedom to experiment with typography, color and graphic style, as well as such diverse media as silkscreen, lithography and woodcut prints."
In 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the WPA as part of his New Deal. In addition to providing funds for musicians, actors and writers, the WPA supported hundreds of murals and thousands of original posters through the Federal Art Project. This division of the WPA employed more than 5,000 artists in various art projects throughout the country. By 1938, there were poster divisions in at least 18 states, including Pennsylvania. Although it is estimated that cumulatively across the United States over 2 million posters were printed from 35,000 designs, today only about 2,000 of the WPA posters are known to still exist.
Miller began collecting posters over a decade ago, and first discovered WPA posters when decorating his New Hope, Pennsylvania home. His collection now contains over 50 different posters, all made in Pennsylvania under the auspices of the WPA including many posters of birds designed for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Among the particularly rare designs on view at the Museum are Pennsylvania tourism promotional posters by Katherine Milhous and Philadelphia industry and safety posters by Robert Muchley.