Posts Tagged ‘WPA’

Winifred Milius

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Winifred: now there’s a name that conjures up a lost era.  If you’re thinking the Great Depression, you’re right on the money. 

Winifred Milius (born 1914) is an American artist and writer who first made her mark in the 1930s producing prints in sympathy with the WPA era social realist school.  Here is a photo of her marching in an Artists’ Union Rally in 1935. 

This morning I successfully bid at auction for a 1937 woodcut of hers entitled “Newsboy.”  It’s a close-up view of scurying street life, rendered in a loose expressionist style suitable to the woodcut medium.   Smack dab in the center of the chaos Milius places a kid hawking papers.  Depicting this occupation was a favorite of urban artists of every stripe.  In an earlier period the subject produced some awful, sentimental pictures meant for the walls of Victorian parlors.  By the 1930s the subject could be used symbolically in the fight for economic and social justice.  A newsboy offers a two-fer:  he’s a hard worker fending for mere coins, and also a kid whose formal education has been sidetracked so he can develop the street smarts needed to support his family.

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[Winifred Milius, "Newsboy," woodcut, 1937, signed and dated lower right, numbered (#12) and titled lower left, 8 1/8 x 5 1/4".  Acquired at Rachel Davis Fine Arts - Paintings, Prints, and Sculpture at Auction, March 21, 2009, Lot 202.]

Stuyvesant Van Veen

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

First of all, what a great name.  He could be a character in a novel by Thomas Pynchon or T. Coraghessan Boyle. But instead Stuyvesant Van Veen (1910-1988) is the name of  a vital American artist of social conscience, and one who deserves greater attention. A painter, muralist, satirist, and illustrator, he employed his well-honed graphic talents most powerfully during the 1930s.

Searching Google uncovers only bits and pieces of his legacy: a cursory NY Times obit found here; his 1932 depiction of the folly of war here; a 1937 photo of Van Veen working on a U.S. Courthouse mural in Pittsburgh here; a profile of his work during World War II (Van Veen served as Sgt. in the Army) creating a mural at what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, here (second photo of 24).

Recently I won an eBay auction of a drawing Van Veen created in 1937 for publication in the radical monthly, The New Masses. (I was the only bidder.)  The image of looming military threat — literally from over the horizon — was common in political cartoons of that era:

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Now comes the fun part — researching the history and meaning of the piece. I’ve got to find a set of New Masses from 1937 to see if in fact the drawing was reproduced there. Was it used to illustrate an article?  On what subject?  What’s the meaning of the title, “Silk Stockings are Bayonets”? Does the image depict a specific episode of fascist aggression — somewhere in Europe or Asia?  Why did Van Veen make the drawing so large (it’s 29 x 20 inches)? Was that the standard size New Masses required its illustrators to submit for purposes of reproduction? Or did Van Veen intend the drawing for public display separate and apart from its magazine appearance?

I will update this post when answers are found.

UPDATE (09-26-2010). Adam McIntosh posted a comment explaining the title and historical context: “The title “Silk Stockings are Bayonets” is a reference to the fact that the silk used in the making of stockings in the 1930s was imported from Japan. Thus implying the buying of silk stockings was funding the Japanese war of aggression in China. Besides the title, if you look at the soldier, despite the dehumanizing vagueness of the depiction, his gear, especially the helmet, is unmistakably that of the Imperial Japanese Army.”  My thanks go to Mr. McIntosh. With his information about the Second Sino-Japanese War that broke out in 1937, and with a little help from Google, I found a photograph in which”New York ladies parade with non-silk stockings to support the boycott on Japanese goods”:

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