JCC Exhibition Features Depression Era Art

Michael Leone, Golden Gloves Tournament, 1930s, color linocut.
Michael Leone, Golden Gloves Tournament, 1930s, color linocut.

Article Contributed by
Jamestown Community College

A reception for an exhibition of fine art representing American life during the 1930s will be held November 9 in the Weeks Gallery on Jamestown Community College’s Jamestown Campus.

The reception, featuring a presentation on American art of the Depression Era by Ellen Litwicki, a history professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, will be held from 6 to 8 p.m.

American Scene: Life During the 1930s is on display through December 14. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, and by appointment. For more information contact gallery director Patricia Briggs at 716-338-1301 or visit www.weeksgallery.sunyjcc.edu.

All gallery events are free and open to the public. Funding for the exhibition is provided through the JCC Foundation and JCC’s Faculty Student Association.

Community members are invited to learn about printmaking, collecting art, and art of the Depression Era during two other special exhibition-related programs. Jamestown art collector J. Marlin Casker, whose fine art prints form the nucleus of the exhibition, will discuss his collection from noon to 1 p.m. on November 14.

On November 29, JCC faculty member and printmaker Yu Kanazawa will explain engraving, etching, and lithography processes from noon to 1 p.m.

Preparations for the exhibition began two years ago when Casker, a retired architect, showed his collection of fine art prints to Dr. Briggs, director of the Weeks Gallery. Casker was introduced to printmaking when he attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn during the early 1960s.

Casker began collecting early 20th century art about 20 years ago by visiting galleries and attending print fairs and auctions. Dr. Briggs selected 17 works from Casker’s collection of about 200 prints to form the basis of the American Scene exhibition.

Approximately 35 prints from SUNY Oswego’s Grant Arnold Collection of Fine Art Prints and Indiana University’s Collection of Works Progress Administration prints and posters are also included in the exhibition.

“Some European artists like Pablo Picasso created highly abstract art during the 1930s,” noted Dr. Briggs, “but American artists like those presented in the American Scene exhibition sought to have their work appreciated and understood by the general public.”

During the Great Depression, many artists found employment through the Federal Art Project, one of the Roosevelt administration’s Work Progress Administration programs. From 1933 to 1942, as many as 10,000 artists painted post office murals, carved relief sculptures on public buildings, taught art classes in community centers, wrote plays, created musical scores and paintings, and designed posters focused on American culture or as documentations of daily life.

Viewers will find the Works Progress Administration stamp on a number of the prints in the American Scene exhibition. Whether or not an artist worked for the WPA, almost all American artists in this period favored naturalism and depicted quintessentially American subjects.

The Regionalists, who focused on rural subjects, are represented in the exhibition by Thomas Hart Benton’s She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain, Ozark Musicians, a 1931 lithograph celebrating the folk music of the Ozark region.

Social Realists were drawn to urban and industrial subjects and sometimes focused on the plight of the poor. James Allen’s 1935 etching, Teeming Ingots, depicts steel foundry workers wearing goggles and gloves, dramatically set in profile against the light of molten metal and towering machinery.

“In spite of, or perhaps because of, the high levels of unemployment during the period, Americans could be found spending what little money they had seeking distraction,” Dr. Briggs said. Depictions of boxing matches, movie theatres, and amusement park merry-go-rounds appear in the American Scene exhibition.

A collection of photographs, newspaper articles, and other documents about Jamestown in the 1930s from the Fenton History Center will also be on view in the Weeks Gallery.