ArtBeat – Works Progress Administration

By Ed Goldman

The Works Progress Administration—that eight-year bonanza of art and industry created in 1935 under U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to employ the unemployed (the precursor of “Build Back Better,” only real)— is alive and in temporary residence at the Crocker Art Museum.

“Construction Workers Solidarity in Action,” by Emanuel Romano (1897-1984), from “Art for the People,” at the Crocker Art Museum until June.

If you want to see the kind of heroic, impressionist, expressionist, neo-Gothic and timelessly compelling art this country produced in the first third of the prior century, this is a must-see exhibit—one of the finest I’ve seen at the Crocker (since its last must-see exhibit). It’s here until June.

The show is particularly moving for me, for two reasons. 

First, I spent the first eight years of my life in Parkchester, a one-square-mile community of more than 100 brick apartment houses in Bronx, New York, whose sculptures and monumental touches were designed and executed by artists funded by the selfsame WPA. 

Second, many of those artists had pedigrees similar to those of my own grandparents, coming to America in the early 1900s from Russia, Ukraine and Romania; some, like my grandparents and at least one aunt and uncle, were genuine Communists, owing to the oppression they were leaving behind and their immediate adoption of this country’s labor union movement. Yes, some disillusionment would set in. But that’s another story.

Many think of the WPA, which put nearly nine million people to work, as having funded mainly public works projects— such as roads and schools and hospitals (and, not far from California’s capital, the splendid Coit Tower in San Francisco)—but are surprised to discover how much art depicting immigrants, the working-class and an in-hindsight gold-tinted twinkling of American life came out of the era. I’d spoil this by calling it a history lesson or art class, so jist think of it as hugely entertaining, evocative and, yeah, emotional.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for Valentine’s Day and a country drive, you can check out photographer/artist Maggie McGurk’s polymer-clay Valentine’s hearts in person at the Art League of Lincoln’s gift shop: 580 Sixth Street, Lincoln, open Thursdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 pm. The phone number is 916.209.3499 and the email is

I wrote about Maggie the other day. She’s a longtime friend who used to be as ubiquitous a presence at public events as cash bars. My column about her new work may be found at the website for my thrice-weekly column, The Goldman State: 

Closer to home, Archival Gallery has a clever new show (actually, they’re all pretty damn clever) called “Wallpapers and Vinyl Dreams,” celebrating (and selling) the work of Carol Mott-Binkley, along with Debra Kreck-Harnish Valentines. That show runs from February 1-25, with a 5-8 p.m. reception on the 11th. Archival is at 3223 Folsom Boulevard. And that’s my vinyl word on the subject.

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