Callin’ All WPA Posters!

•October 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Devils-tower Folks, once you start lookin’ you’re gonna start finding. I’m sure some of you readers are going to look at my WPA pics and conclude that I’ve been smokin’ tumbleweed. Not the case, friends. I actually had what is surely a mistaken memory that I saw a WPA poster promoting travel on Highway 395 and I went looking for it. Maybe someone made an advertisement that I mis-remembered or something. I also recalled buying a postcard of the WPA poster for the Petrified Forest when I was out there a few years back. So I was making discoveries on the Library of Congress site and here and there and the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, and then I found Ranger Doug, and here’s what he has to say about it:

The posters:

Between 1935 and 1943 the WPA’s Federal Art Project printed over two million posters in 35,000 different designs to stir the public’s imagination for education, Acadia theater, health, safety, and travel. Due to their fragile nature only two thousand posters have survived to this day; less than one tenth of one percent! These rare images were rescued and restored from black and white photos beginning in 1993 by Ranger Doug.

Ranger Doug’s Enterprises was established by me, Doug Leen, in 1993 after the discovery twenty years earlier of the only surviving WPA poster–Grand Teton National Park. Sensing the possibility of a larger collection, my Blueridge-parkway research took me to remote West Virginia where, ten years later, I discovered the remnants of this art collection–13 black and white photos of this series printed between 1938 and 1941. I immediately embarked on a mission to bring these rare posters back into the public domain.

During the next ten years, several originals have turned up in addition to the one I found in 1973–Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest. Then five Mt. Rainier posters Shenandoah turned up in a garage in South Seattle–three “sandwiched” together in one frame! Later, Bandelier National Monument discovered more than a dozen–with complete documentation of their publication. In 2005 an anonymous collector called with two more original finds and returned to his source to acquire a nearly full set. The search continues…

We now republish all 14 original WPA National Park posters with two additional See America posters printed Great-Smoky-Mtns for the US Travel Bureau. We’ve also added several contemporary poster  designs to this collection at the request of the parks: Devils Tower, Bryce Canyon, Denali, Olympic, Mesa Verde and Hawaii, with more coming. After finding the original Mt. Rainier poster we’ve re-colored it and now offer this as a Limited Centennial Edition (of 500) silkscreen poster. Our original “blue sky” edition continues to be available as an open edition…

Alright – now Ranger Doug has cleared up some mysteries. Crater_Lake We now know why there are so few of them, why they rend to feature obscure parks, and where the modern “non-authentic” ones come from. All the ones on this page are recent creations of Doug & Co and I think they’re aces. He’s got them as posters, notecards, limited edition prints – something for every budget.

Some history of the WPA also from Doug Leen…

After the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched a massive bureaucratic structure called the New Deal. This was Bryce_Canyon primarily structured as work relief programs that began in 1933 as the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration or TERA. TERA underwent several organizational changes among them the Public Works or Art Project (PWAP), and the Civilian Works Administration (CWA) finally stabilizing as the Federal Project Number One in 1935. “Federal One” was only one section under the Division of Professional Service Project within the Works Progress Administration or WPA. To further complicate Bryce_Canyon_2 this bureaucratic web, “Fed One” had four subdivisions: The Federal Theater, Music, Writers, and Art Projects.

By 1938 the Federal Art Project or FAP employed artists in all 48 states with a budget of 1% of the WPA’s total budget and was clearly the largest single employer of artists in the United States. Incidentally, this 1% is the model by which most cities today allocate funding for art projects within municipal buildings and is the basis for funding our foundation. Now, just when you thought you had all this memorized, in 1939 the Works Progress Administration kept its WPA acronym but changed its name to the Work Projects Administration for better Cliff_Palace public recognition!

The efforts of the FAP are mostly known today by the 4000 public murals that have survived on the walls of post offices and schools around the country. Perhaps least known are the posters by their very fragile nature. Between 1935 and 1943 Garden_of_the_Gods over two million posters were printed by the WPA/FAP. These posters were based on 35,000 designs of which only 2,000 actual posters survive today. It is sad to realize that nearly 33,000 poster designs have been lost forever, representing 99.9% of our public poster art.

The early posters were individually hand painted in one or two colors and were produced in very limited editions, perhaps as few as 50. Poster subjects included art, Glacier theater, travel, education, health and safety. About one third of the artists producing these posters resided in New York City; a holdover from Mayor LaGuardia’s “Fish Tuesday” poster project. Because of LaGuardia’s model success, the WPA absorbed the mayor’s poster project in 1935.

 In 1934 Anthony Velonis joined the WPA/FAP and introduced the commercial technique of serigraph production. According to Posters of the WPA by Hawaii-National-Park Christopher DeNoon, in 1938 the WPA/FAP poster divisions had spread to at least eighteen states with the Chicago poster unit producing 1500 posters per day. With the serigraph commercial process, posters with up to eight or more colors could be efficiently produced.

 With the advance of World War II and a concurrent rise of anti-communism, severe limitations were placed on the FAP, namely an annual salary cap of $1000 for artists. Another limitation was the “18 month rule” which limited Mesa_Verde artists to 18 months employment. This cut out 70% of all artists from the WPA. During the war the FAP was transferred to the Defense Department where the emphasis shifted to war posters. This move severely limited the artistic quality. By 1943 the FAP was disbanded entirely.

 The National Parks Series were produced between 1938 beginning with the Grand Teton poster and ending with the Bandelier National Monument poster in 1941. The Mount-mckinley artists and actual dates of production are unknown. The original posters, distributed to local Chambers of Commerce, were produced for internal marketing only and not for sale.

So there you go. Now even 70 years later some of those posters surely exist and need to get back out there. Doug, like me, has a “thing” for the National Parks posters (although a bunch of the Indian Court posters are still extant – I’ll post them later) but regardless, if your parent was one of the WPA Sequoia artists, if you have one hanging on the wall of your cabin, if you’re cleaning out the basement at the Alamo… Please be aware that that old poster you found represents an important time in America’s history. A time when rebuilding the economy also meant restoring a quality of life – appreciating nature and the arts, avoiding the spread of infectious disease and all kinds of stuff. Contact Doug Leen, or me, or the Library of Congress, call Antiques Roadshow – whatever – just don’t toss it in the trash.






Raven Jake’s Pumpkins

•October 3, 2010 • 1 Comment

Raven Jake's Pumpkin It’s a little known fact that I love to garden. I get to plantin’ stuff and then I start callin’ whatever comes up, my “green kids.” Now, much of this past growing season I have been fighting a gopher jihad. They got the tomatoes and the beans. I’m pretty sure I took some of them out too. Today the last and biggest of the four pumpkins got harvested.

I always feel better growing my own vegetables for food and entertainment and I also feel better knowing where it came from. These “Wyatt’s Wonder” pumpkin seeds came from Renee’s Garden. Not Monsanto. Really, avoid that company – it’s bad for the planet. Here’s a link to tell you how.

The Wyatt’s didn’t grow to 75-100 lbs, but were pretty impressive none the less. Next year, I’m going to start planting earlier!

Syphilis & Theaters

•October 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Syphilis Now y’all probably thought I was kidding about WPA posters warning about the spread of syphilis and promoting plays, but here’s the proof. Now since the Apatosaurus wasn’t a mammal, I don’t rightly see how it had anything to do with suffering from untreated tertiary syphilis, nor were you likely to be having conjugal relations with one even way back in 1940. “Haiti” actually referred to William Du Bois’ reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” And I gotta say, “Leave poor Haiti out of it!” That little country has enough problems – what with the uprisings, dictatorships, colonial exploitation – not to mention earthquakes and zombies – that it doesn’t need to be in the center of love triangles and court intrigue.  All that said, readers, if you’ve got syphilis or any other STD, please get treated. I also advocate support of the dramatic arts. Maybe it’s time for some new posters.Haiti 

More WPA Posters from the late 1930s

•October 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Bandelier Well, no, I ain't posting all 900 extant posters – most of them have to do with not spreading syphillis and advertisements for plays. That's all well and good, but it's really the travel posters from the national parks that have my interest (although I will admit that some of those other posters have a lot of charm too). So here are some of those other WPA posters from the New Deal, still as relevant as they were 70 years ago: 




Grand Teton






Wild_life copy










Color Variant on WPA Posters

•October 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Yellowstone LoC Don't know when this color variant was introduced, but the sunset version is lovely.



Zion National Park

Work Projects Administration Posters

•October 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Visit the National Parks Well, as I wrote in my tree octopus post, I love those old WPA posters and wanted to learn a little more about them. Apparently there are about 2,000 of them left and 900 are in the Library of Congress. They're in the public domain, so you can get reproductions most anyplace. The posters depict various programs and projects sponsored by the government: health and safety programs, cultural programs including art exhibitions and theatrical and musical performances, travel and tourism, educational programs, and community activities and were created from 1936-1943. My faves are the national parks posters, but there's much to commend the others too. The one over here to the left was created by Harry Herzog, but most of the artists have been lost to time. There have also been some excellent comtemporary posters inspired by the originals from c. 1938 (like the tree octopus) but the ones posted here are old school.





Yellowstone LoC



Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus!

•October 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Tree_octopus_wpa_poster The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is a shy, misunderstood and seldom-seen critter from Washington State that lives out at least part of it's lifespan in the coniferous temperate rain forest. I've been sproutin' them in a paper towel on top of the fridge, and now I've got an aquarium full of pups lookin' for a good home. They're endangered, y'all, so take good care of 'em and don't shoot your mouth off to the "authorities." Rangers are s'posed to destroy any that they find, since they can't just turn 'em back loose in the wild.   

Well, that's what a jokester named Lyle Zapato came up with in 1998, and ever since it's been used as a test to see how gulible folks can be when it comes to stuff they see on the internet. Now I took an interest 'cause I've been lookin' at the old Works Progress Administration [WPA] posters Wild_life_2 from around 1938. I love that festive federalist graphic style and I'll probably just end up posting up a bunch of them for everyone to see. Good graphics are good graphics. Quite frankly, given my love of octopi and other cephalopods (Jane and I even have matching octopus tattoos from our engagement, but don't go spreading that around) I'd be the first one to propose a no-logging zone to protect Tree Octopus habitat. Alas, not the case: but check out the cool graphics – the octopus is a clear lift, well, no, let's call it a "homage" of the "real" poster made by J. Hirt c. 1938. And if you still want a Tree Octopus pup, gimme a call and we'll arange for a payment/drop-off schedule that'll work with your budget.