Art spotlight: Depression-era works

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 31, 2012 - 3:04 PM

Pieces from the Public Works of Art program at the Minnesota History Center.

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E. Martin Hennings' "Homeward Bound," 1933-1934

Photo: Smithsonian American Art Museum,

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When times get tough, artists are often hit hard, their work dismissed as inessential frivolities when food and shelter take priority. So it was in the Great Depression when the country's whole economy collapsed. For a few brief months -- December 1933 to June 1934 -- the federal government stepped in with a Public Works of Art Program that hired artists to create paintings, sculpture, murals and other art about the "American Scene." In six months, the 3,749 artists turned out 15,663 works, ranging from cityscapes to rural vistas, portraits to industrial motifs. Most were at least subliminally upbeat, intent on sustaining the hopes of downtrodden people or at least taking their minds off daily troubles, restoring confidence and sparking community spirit. "New Deal" features 56 of the paintings on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, including "Homeward Bound," by New Mexico artist E. Martin Hennings, shown here. Among the Minnesota-based artists included are Erle Loran, Harry Gottlieb, Arnold Ness Klagstad and E. Dewey Albinson. There's also a Flickr show of 400 artworks and related Smithsonian objects from 1934 at www.flickr.com/groups/1934.

  • Saturday through Sept. 30
  • $11 adults
  • Minnesota History Center: 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul
  • 651-259-3000 or 1-800-657-3773
  • www.mnhs.org
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