WPA Prints and Drawings

Paul Clark Rockwood (American, 1895–1972). Skyline (detail), ca. 1936. Lithograph. Allocated by the Federal Art Project. L43.2.597

During the Great Depression, the federal government’s Works Progress Administration provided thousands of jobs for otherwise unemployed American artists. Projects funded by the WPA between 1933 and 1943 included the decoration of public buildings throughout the country and the establishment of graphic arts workshops in thirty-five cities, among them New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Residents of the Bay Area benefited in myriad ways from Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal which provided funding for murals at Coit Tower, the Rincon Annex Post Office, Beach Chalet, National Maritime Museum and the San Francisco Zoo. San Francisco’s print workshop opened in late 1935 under the leadership of Ray Bertrand, one of the Coit Tower muralists who had previous experience in lithography. The shop paired unemployed commercial printers from the Bay Area with local artists, and churned out hundreds of limited-edition prints and posters during its eight years of operation. WPA prints were not sold commercially, but were widely shown in schools, libraries, community art centers, public museums and other tax-supported institutions.

The de Young Museum was assigned over 1,000 works on paper from the various WPA art programs that now reside in the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. These include working sketches for public murals, finished watercolors, and a large and varied collection of lithographs, stencil prints, screenprints, etchings, linocuts and woodcuts produced in the San Francisco print workshop.