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Dorothea Lange - Migrant Mother, 1936
Migrant Mother, 1936
Dorothea Lange

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WPA Prints: More Collectible Than Ever
Artists recorded a pivotal time in USA's history

Artists are usually among the first voices calling attention to the ills of society.  During the Great Depression, their passion and creativity were revealed in a government-sponsored program FDR's Works Progress Administration (WPA).
''Granaries to Babylon'' by Louis Lozowick, 1933
"Granaries to Babylon"
(Babylon to Omaha Railroad Yards)
by Louis Lozowick, 1933

Artists Able To Work As Artists
President Roosevelt created the Public Works of Art Project in 1934.  This program enabled artists to secure work and to maintain their dignity as artists.

In post offices, federal buildings, train stations, schools, and other public facilities they created magnificent murals that captured the effects of a devastated economy.  The public's response was dramatic.

In 1935 the WPA expanded this program.  In its workshops across the country, countless emerging artists found employment.  They created prints whose powerful themes of social realism the impoverished farmer in America's heartland and the plight of the urban poor sent powerful messages to the public.  WPA prints could be seen in schools, libraries, and hospitals in virtually every state.

Over time, many WPA muralists and printmakers, such as Jacob Lawrence and Philip Guston, became well known and were represented in galleries.

''Rock Drillers'' by Harry Gottlieb, 1939
"Rock Drillers" by Harry Gottlieb, 1939

Market for WPA Prints
There was a renewed interest in WPA prints in the 1980s.

Lesser-known artists such as Harry Gottlieb, Mark Freeman, and Louis Lozowick were discovered and collected their work was affordable, just costing several hundred dollars.

Over time prints from the WPA period have risen in value to several thousand dollars and higher.  Because of production costs during the Depression, print editions from this era were limited.  So it's not surprising that they are now rare.

''Federal Building, Chicago Worlds Fair'' by Mark Freeman, 1933
"Federal Building,
Chicago Worlds Fair" by Mark Freeman, 1933


Here are some tips when looking for WPA prints:

  • Purchase a limited edition print (a multiple original).  Don't purchase a reproduction.  Reproductions have a low value, whereas prints will in time appreciate in value.

  • Always ask for information about the artist.  This is a key component of your purchase.

And finally, do you like what you see?  Make certain that this is the print you must have for your collection.


Walker Evans: Photographs for the Farm Security Administration, 1935-1938
by Walker Evans

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men:
3 Tenant Families

by James Agee, Walker Evans

The WPA Guide to 1930s New Mexico
by Marc Simmons

Walker Evans - Subways Streets
Subways Streets
Walker Evans

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Jacob Lawrence - Pool Parlor 1942
Pool Parlor
Jacob Lawrence

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Jacob Lawrence - Ironers
Jacob Lawrence

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Jacob Lawrence - Builders 1
Builders 1
Jacob Lawrence

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