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Posts Tagged ‘WPA’

National Parks: WPA Federal Art Project Posters

Posted by Laurie Frost on October 15, 2009


The National Park Service [NPS] was the beneficiary of several initiatives under the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration [WPA], primarily through the work accomplished by the Civilian Conservation Corps in building roads and facilities in the parks.  Among the posters produced under the auspices of  the WPA Federal Art Project, some featured the NPS. A few of these are presented here. All are courtesy of the Library of Congress; number identifiers are listed at the post’s end.

While the next two do not name a national park, they seem likely based on Carlsbad Caverns and Arches.

Number identifiers

goats: ppmsca-23061

Grand Canyon: ppmsca 13397

Ft. Marion: ppmsca-13396

Lassen: ppmsca-13398

Zion: ppmsca-13400

Yellowstone: ppmsca 13399

cave: LC-USZC4-4243. Artist: Alexander Dux

arches: LC-USZC2-831. Artist: Frank S. Nicholson.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on National Parks: WPA Federal Art Project Posters

WPA Murals, Part 2: Frustration

Posted by Laurie Frost on September 12, 2009

These first two murals can be found at  A New Deal for the Arts, an online exhibit at the National Archives.southern_illinois (MO 56-331) FDR Library, NARA

History of Southern Illinois. By Paul Kelpe, Illinois Federal Art Project, WPA, ca. 1935-39 Gouache.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, National Archives and Records Administration (MO 56-331)electrification

Electrification. By David Stone Martin, Treasury Section of Fine Arts, 1940, Tempera on cardboard. Fine Arts Collection, General Services Administration (FA4703)

Dozens of  the 2,500 or so  murals executed under the auspices of the Federal At Project and Works Progress Administration can be found online.

Now you know if you’ve followed this blog that I have been careful to make sure that those images I present as public domain are from sites where their status is unambiguously presented and no permission is required for personal, educational, and research purposes, or for commercial ones, which is in fact what public domain is all about.

My understanding is that a work is either in the public domain, or it is not. It is not in the public domain for some purposes and not in the public domain for others.

Consider the absence of qualifications in this definition from “Glossary of Intellectual Property Terms,” taken from the U.S. Department of State publication, “Focus on Intellectual Property Rights,” as posted on

PUBLIC DOMAIN [general intellectual property]. The status of an invention, creative work, and commercial symbol that is not protected by any form of intellectual property law. Items in the public domain are available for free copying and use by anyone.

I can’t see how WPA murals can be anything but public domain. But I found myself up against a complication here. Simply digitizing a photo adds nothing to it, but taking a photo of a mural, while adding nothing new, does take skill, so  there may well be a good argument that although the subject of the photo–the mural– is in the public domain, the photo itself should not be so considered.

Fair enough, unless the mural was photographed by a Federal employee during work hours. Then it seems to me that the image should be in the public domain.

So it was with great frustration that I tried to make sense of the restrictions posted on The New Deal Network. There are all kinds of resources on this site, including a number of pictures of WPA murals. But each page includes a copyright notice and this:

Materials on this site may be used without permission for educational, non-commercial purposes, such as classroom distribution, student reports, etc. However, credit should be given to the New Deal Network. Lesson plans may be used without permission.

The New Deal Network (NDN) was created by the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI),

with the assistance of IBM, Marist College, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, and continued its development in cooperation with the Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia University from 1997 to 2001. NDN was developed with a grant from the NEH.

So it isn’t entirely federally funded.

This is NDN’s  statement on permissions:

Personal or Educational Use

Permission is NOT required to use photos or documents for educational purposes such as classroom distribution, school reports and projects, etc.

Commercial Publishing Use

The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute does not hold copyrights on any of the materials from other sources republished on the New Deal Network website; therefore we cannot grant permission to use these materials. In cases where the items are copyrighted and the NDN received permission to use them, there will be a copyright or permissions statement indicating the copyright holder. In those instances, to obtain permission to reprint the materials, please contact the copyright holder listed.

If no such copyright holder is noted the item is most likely in the public domain, but we cannot guarantee that. It is the responsibility of the user to research the copyright status of the item. Please contact the listed Publisher or Owner of the item to obtain copyright information.

and this is FERI‘s:

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library provides prints from its files for reference purposes only. Permission to use photographs credited to commercial sources must be obtained from the copyright owner. No permission is needed to use those photographs in the public domain. The Library also has many photographs for which the rights owner is not known, although the staff has made an effort to determine the rights possessor. The responsibility for publication of these photos rests with the user. The Library would appreciate a courtesy line for the use of those photos in the public domain and those for which the copyright owner is unknown, e.g. “Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, Hyde Park, New York.”

What I don’t understand is why, when the source for an image of a WPA mural on NDN is identified as the National Archives, and the National Archives identifies an image of a comparable WPA mural as having no use restrictions, the same status doesn’t apply over at NDN.

Let’s compare data from the National Archives for The Marian Anderson Mural by Mitchell Jamieson at the Interior Department Building in Washington, D.C. (ARC Identifier 195952) [shown below]:

Part Of: Series: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, compiled 1882 1962

Access Restriction(s): Unrestricted

Use Restriction(s): Unrestricted

and that for 1939 World’s Fair Mural, over at New Deal Network [not shown]:

Location: NY

Agency: FAP

Credits: Fogel, Seymour (Artist)

Owner: National Archives and Records Administration

Medium: Mural

Use of this Image: Permission is not required to copy or print this image for personal or educational use such as school projects, classroom distribution, etc.

Click here to request permission to reprint this image in a commercial book, publication, or website, or for other commercial uses such as advertising or exhibits, or to request information on ordering a print.

See what I mean?

27-0807aLinks to other sites with pictures WPA murals but that aren’t noted as available for unrestricted use, i.e. public domain:

Chicago Conservation Center

List of Links to On-Line Exhibits at wpamurals

Harlem hospital murals

Posted in National Archives, WPA | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

WPA Murals, Part 1

Posted by Laurie Frost on September 9, 2009

27-0808aMural by Symeon Shimin, “Contemporary Justice in Relation to the Child.” Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., ca. 1940. Courtesy National Archives. [ARC Identifier 195951]

It wasn’t until I came across mention in Assassination Vacation of Edwin Booth being featured in a WPA post office mural in Bel Air, Maryland, that I realized murals in public places were  another one of the New Deal’s arts initiatives (I’m still waiting on the current Stimulus Package’s programs for writers and artists…). I wanted to have a look at these.

I started at the National Archives, where I found these:


“Painting depicting race involving people in wagons, on horseback, and a bike to stake claims on land plots. One of the wagon canvas’s says: Oklahoma or Bust:.” Artist: John Stewart Curry. Building and city not identified, ca. 1937.  Courtesy National Archives. [ARC identifier197273]


“Painting of steamboat pushing barges on Hudson River with New York City skyline in background, ca. 1937. ” Artist: Louis Lozowick. New York City General Post Office. Courtesy National Archives. [ARC Identifier 195793]


“Painting depicting World War I scene with soldiers and ammunition in foreground and large dirigible suspended in upper middle.” Artist Peppino Mangravite. Hempstead, New York, ca. 1937. Courtesy National Archives. [ARC Identifier 195789]

These frescoes (below) by Reginald Marsh are in the New York City Customs House. The shapes of these images confused me until I saw the photograph of their location. Courtesy National Archives. [ARC Identifiers 195957, 195814, 195816]





I did a little looking around and I found that the Midwest Chapter of the National New Deal Preservation Association maintains a webpage, New Deal Art During the Great Depression, with lists of post office murals organized by town and state. Many are accompanied by photographs, and while permission to use these might be easy to get, they aren’t in the public domain. But you can see them on by starting here.

My next idea was to go to the US Postal Service site. According to the USPS, even if you take a picture of one of these murals yourself only for non-commercial/educational purposes it must be credited “Used with the permission of the United States Postal Service®. All rights reserved.”  Moreover,

Any use of mural images by a commercial entity or by a nonprofit entity for profit-making, commercial purposes requires approval from the Rights and Permissions office.

 Why? Because

The Postal Service is the owner and proud guardian of over 1,000 murals and sculptures commissioned by the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts from 1934 to 1943.

How exactly the USPS can consider itself the owner of art commissioned by the Federal government is beyond my comprehension, but the explanation, such as it is, appears in the General Services Administration Guidelines on Fine Arts, which you can look at here.

I had more success at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. Their policy is

Unless copyright information is stated in the image caption, all of the digitized material available online from the FDR Library Archives belongs in the public domain. This means that, to the best of our knowledge, the materials may be freely used by the online researcher, teacher, or student. Users of online material should be aware, however, that it is still necessary to acknowledge the source of documents, photographs and other historical material by proper citation. Please see guidance below.

When you do see copyright information associated with documents or photographs, either in-person or on our website, it is your responsibility as a researcher to acquire permission from the copyright owner in order to legally use that material in your project or publication.

So I am able to share these with you, showing the process of creating one of these murals, which happens to be the subject of an exhibition at the FDR Library Museum on display through November 19, 2009:

First is a postcard depicting Stoutenburgh panel ca. 1940s [MO 1968.15.15], a mural in the Hyde Park, NY Post Office by Olin Dows. Second is a mixed media drawing for the panel  [Section of Fine Arts, Treasury Department MO 1968.15.17], and third, a final color study [Section of Fine Arts, Treasury Department MO 1968.15.1]. All Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York.




Posted in Historical, National Archives, People, Places, WPA | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Who Was Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother?

Posted by Laurie Frost on June 2, 2009

In an earlier post I noted that one of the most famous American photographs of the twentieth century is in the public domain in the United States since it was taken by Dorothea Lange when she was employed by the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. What came to be known as “Migrant Mother” was one of six images shot by Lange on March 9, 1936 near Nipomo, California, where migrant workers were in a dire situation since the crops they had come to harvest had been destroyed by freezing rains.

On the following day,  according to Geoffrey Dunn’s essay for New Times: San Luis Obispo, “Photographic License,” the San Francisco News published this picture:


 The next day it used the one that became known as “Migrant Mother.”3b41800r 

But who was this mother?

Lange didn’t ask her name when she took the pictures. In the 1970s she identified herself in a letter to a local newspaper editor signed Florence Thompson, and this is the name now associated with “Migrant Mother.”

In fact, in 1936 she was Florence Owens. It wasn’t until after WWII that she remarried and became Florence Thompson.

Florence Owens Thompson’s reason for writing her letter, which was picked up by the Associated Press, was distress at the picture’s fame:

In the AP story, Thompson declared that she felt “exploited” by Lange’s portrait. “I wish she hadn’t taken my picture,” she declared. “I can’t get a penny out of it. [Lange] didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.”

Likely Lange couldn’t sell the pictures, but Thompson must have assumed she did when several appeared in the papers, and certainly after Lange’s assignment with the FSA ended, her career was enhanced by the fame she gained with “Migrant Mother.” Dunn reports that one of Florence’s children, Katherine McIntosh, says Lange

“also told mother the negatives would never be published–that she was only going to use the photos to help out the people in the camp.”

Lange, indeed, sent the photos to the Resettlement Administration in Washington, where the photos had an immediate impact on federal bureaucrats, who quickly rushed 20,000 pounds of food supplies to pea-picker camp in Nipomo.

Florence and children, and her partner, Joe Hill, father of Norma Lee, infant in the pictures, were already out of the area.

Florence was from Oklahoma, but she first left the state in 1926. Florence Leona Christie [b. Sept. 1, 1903] was a full blooded Cherokee, which means that her ancestors were in Oklahoma not by choice but because of the forced migrations from their homelands along what came to be known as the Trail of Tears to the Oklahoma Territory.

She first arrived in California with husband Cleo Owens. When he died of TB in 1931, she had five children and was three months pregnant with her sixth (Katherine). Two years later when she was pregnant by a man whose family she feared would take their son’s child from her, she went home to Oklahoma. In 1937 she returned with members of her extended family to California, and became involved with Hill.

Lange’s pictures temporarily eased the sufferings of the stranded and starving migrants at the Nipomo camp. Many years later, finally, Florence saw some small profit from her portrait. In 1983,  sick with cancer, Florence had a stroke which left her in need of constant nursing attention. This $1400 a week care was more than her chidren could afford.

Her son Troy Owens asked Jack Foley at the San Jose Mercury News for help. Dunn reports,

The story Foley filed for the Mercury generated national attention. More than $35,000 poured into a special Migrant Mother Fund administered by Hospice Caring Project of Santa Cruz County, much of it coming in the form of rumpled dollar bills.

The contributions came in from all over the country. Nacaodoches, Texas. Russellville, Ark. New York City. Los Angeles. But a good many of them came from the farm towns of the San Joaquin Valley that Florence Thompson called home for most her life–Fresno, Wasco, Tulare, Selma, Visalia.

“The famous picture of your mother for years gave me great strength, pride and dignity–only because she exuded those qualities so,” wrote a woman from Santa Clara.

“Enclosed is a check for $10 to assist the woman whose face gave and still gives eloquent expression to the need our country still has not met,” expressed an anonymous note from New York. . . .

In all, nearly 2,000 letters arrived, and the overwhelming response forced the Owens-Hill children to reconsider Lange’s portrait of their mother in a new light.

“None of us ever really understood how deeply Mama’s photo affected people,” said Owens. “I guess we had only looked at it from our perspective. For Mama and us, the photo had always been a bit of curse. After all those letters came in, I think it gave us a sense of pride.”

 . . . On Sept. 16, 1983, a few weeks past her 80th birthday, Florence Thompson died at her son’s home.

Her gravestone reads: “Migrant Mother–A Legend of the Strength of American Motherhood.”

Another source of information about Florence is her grandson Roger Sprague’s website, Migrant Grandson, the Library of Congress’s overview, and the Art Department of the Oakland Museum of California, which has the largest collection of Dorothea Lange’s work (her work for the government represents only four years of a career in photography spanning from 1918 to 1965, most of which, of course, is not in the public domain).

In addition to the two photographs above, the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress also includes these three:




This is Roger Sprague’s caption for the last of these photos:

Persons in picture (left to right) are: Viola (Pete) in rocker age 14, standing inside tent Ruby age 5, Katherine age 4, seated on box Florence age 32 and infant Norma age 1 year being held by Florence.

One more photo of Florence’s family didn’t make it to the Library of Congress. It’s on Roger Sprague’s site, however:


Second of six (6) photographs taken by Dorthea Lange on March 9, 1936 at Nipomo, California. Pete has moved inside the tent, and away from Lange, in hopes her photo can not be taken. Katherine stands next to her mother. Florence is talking to Ruby, who is hiding behind her mother, as Lange took the picture.



Credits for Library of Congress holdings :

Child holding post: LC-USF34- 009095-C

Florence & Ruby: LC-DIG-ppmsca-03054

Nursing: LC-USF34-T01-009097-C

Girl in rocker: LC-DIG-ppmsca-03054

Posted in Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration, Historical, Library of Congress, People, WPA | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 41 Comments »

Photographic Legacy of New Deal Stimulus Plan, or Images from the Farm Security Administration

Posted by Laurie Frost on June 2, 2009

Have you ever heard of the Farm Security Administration (FSA)? I expect not, but this was a New Deal Department of Agriculture agency that made loans to small farmers. It also had an Information Division that employed 22 photographers to go cross country documenting the people and places of what we now call the Great Depression.

In the US, works created on the job by government employees are in the public domain.

And that is why two of the most widely recognized photographs of the twentieth century are designated as “no known restrictions on publication” at the Library of Congress. Note, however, that there are also laws pertaining to publicity and privacy.

I haven’t yet (but I will) researched whether the family of Florence Thompson has objected to any uses of her picture, but I am not doing so for profit, and so I decided to include it here. Photographer Dorothea Lange titled the portrait “Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California”; it has become known as “Migrant Mother.”   [Credit:  LC-DIG-fsa-8b29516]


Here’s a curiosity, the type of thing you discover at the Library of Congress. “Migrant Mother” was retouched to remove a thumb on the tent pole in the original. Look at the right corner of this unretouched negative [credit: LC-USZ62-95653]:


Here’s Dorothea Lange on the road in California in 1936. [LC-DIG-fsa-8b27245]


Another FSA photographer, Arthur Rothstein, shot this iconic image in 1936, “Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm. Cimarron County, Oklahoma.”   [LC-DIG-ppmsc-00241 1936]


Walker Evans was also an FSA photographer. In 1941 he and the playwright  James Agee published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, an impressionistic chronicle of the weeks they spent documenting the lives of three families of Alabama sharecroppers.

Here are two of Evans’s photos, “Church interior, Alabama or Tennessee” [LC-USF342-8285A ] and “Crossroads store, Sprott, Alabama. 1935 or 1936″ [LC-DIG-ppmsc-00243].



Most of the pictures in the FSA collection document desperate poverty.  However unpalatable the effects of today’s downturn in the economy, they in no way compare to those of the 1930s. Here are some reminders, starting with Russell Lee’s February 1939 ″Interior of tent of white migrant family near Edinburg, Texas. Bed is on the floor. Tent was made of patched cotton materials of various sorts. The man said he had worked in a cotton mill in Dallas, Texas, and had obtained the materials then”  [LC-USF34-032320-D] and “Sick child in bed in trailer home. Sebastian, Texas” [credit: LC-USF34-032325-D]. 



Jack Delano shot this portrait, “Children of a WPA (Work Projects Administration) worker’s family near Siloam, Greene County, Georgia” in June 1941 [LC-USF34-044507-D]:

FSA photographer Marion Post Wolcott’s photograph “Home of old and sick mine foreman and WPA (Works Progress Administration) worker and their families, Charleston, West Virginia” was taken in 1938 [LC-USF33-030089-M5].

Then there are other images, stunning for entirely different reasons, such as Delano’s 1943 “Model airplanes decorate the ceiling of the train concourses at Union Station [Chicago]” [LC-USW3-T01-015950-D]:


Also from 1943,  “Washington, D.C. Field trips for the “flying nun” pre-flight class, including inspection tours of hangars at the Washington National Airport. Here, Sister Aquinas is explaining engine structure to her students” by Ann Rosener [credit: LC-USW3-031400-D].00249r

You can see many more at the Library of Congress. They explain it best:

The photographs in the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. This U.S. government photography project was headed for most of its existence by Roy E. Stryker, who guided the effort in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (1935-1937), the Farm Security Administration (1937-1942), and the Office of War Information (1942-1944). The collection also includes photographs acquired from other governmental and non-governmental sources, including the News Bureau at the Offices of Emergency Management (OEM), various branches of the military, and industrial corporations. In total, the black-and-white portion of the collection consists of about 171,000 black-and-white film negatives, encompassing both negatives that were printed for FSA-OWI use and those that were not printed at the time (use the “Display Images with Neighboring Call Numbers” link on the catalog records to see these uncaptioned images). Color transparencies also made by the FSA/OWI are available in a separate section of the catalog: FSA/OWI Color Photographs

The complete collection of FSA/OWI photographs — 171,000 black-and-white images and 1,602 color images — are available on the Library of Congress website at

Posted in Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration, Historical, Library of Congress, People, WPA | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

WPA Posters Collection, Online at the Library of Congress

Posted by Laurie Frost on June 1, 2009

I keep hoping that the economic stimulus plan will include funding for the arts, but I haven’t seen any sign of this. In contrast, one of the legacies of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration are the iconic American photographs by Dorothea Lange [“Migrant Mother”], Arthur Rothstein [“Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm”], Walker Evans, and others as employees of the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal Department of Agriculture agency, which means their works are in the public domain. You can see these here.

Once again we return to the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, this time to look at a few of the 907 WPA posters advertising events supported by Federal funding or created as public service announcements between 1936-1943. A brief history of arts funding in the WPA is provided as well. Many deal with health and World War II; others promote domestic tourism, using libraries, and so on. Here’s a sampling, with credits listed at the bottom of the post.

I love the vibrancy of these tourism posters:










A number of health posters urged testing for syphilis, sanitation, and safety:










Then there are these promoting arts events — exhibitions, plays, concerts, dance – all funded by the WPA:





















Here’s a tiny sampling of those about WWII:




Credits [artists are not listed for all posters]:

Cave. LC-USZC4-4243 (color film copy transparency). Artist: Alexander Dux

Puerto Rico: LC-USZC2-847 (color film copy slide), Artist: Frank S. Nicholson

Syphilis: LC-USZC2-5350, LC-USZC2-947

Art Institute: LC-USZC2-994. Artist: John Buczak

Concert: LC-USZC2-1111. Artist: Leslie Bryan Burroughs

Native Ground: LC-USZC2-5370. Artist: Emauel DeColas

Dance: LC-DIG-ppmsca-07144. Artist: Richard Halls

Disaster: LC-USZC4-5065. Artist: Phil von Phul

Visibility: LC-USZC2-5359

Salvage: LC-USZC2-1179

Posted in Historical, Library of Congress, WPA | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »