Art: The Eternal Silver Lining

For better or for worse, history often repeats itself. Not always in the exact same fashion, but often to similar results. The past four years have provided a “for worse” example, as our country toiled through the Great Recession, our generation’s version of the Great Depression. Both periods threw Americans into the chaos of uncertainty and poverty, but, as the cliché goes, every cloud has a silver lining.

While we’re not sure what exactly that will mean for the Great Recession, we can look back at the Great Depression and see at least one good thing to emerge: the Public Works of Art Project.

The project, commissioned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration, was the first federal government program to support the arts nationally, and encouraged artists all over the country to depict “the American Scene” in any way they liked. What resulted were images of people and land, cities and fields, industry and community, images that to this day are displayed in schools, libraries, post offices, museums, and government buildings. Why? To prove that beauty can be found—and survive—even amid the most dire of circumstances.

Honoring this notion, and as a reflection of today’s current economic situation, is the Minnesota History Center’s newest exhibit, “1934: A New Deal for Artists,” opening Saturday, June 2. It includes 56 paintings drawn from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s vast collection, each offering a different take on the silver lining of one of America’s darkest clouds.

The following images offer sampling of what the exhibit includes:

E. Dewey Albinson’s “Northern Minnesota Mine”
Agnes Tait’s “Skating in Central Park”
Harry Gottlieb’s “Filling the Ice House”
Daniel Celentano’s “Festival”

“1934: A New Deal for Artists”
June 2–September 30
Minnesota History Center, 345 W. Kellog Blvd., St. Paul