Mural painted by Ben Shahn at the community building. Hightstown, New Jersey.
The Farm Security Administration commissioned this mural in 1937-38 to commemorate the New Deal resettlement community of Jersey Homesteads, now called Roosevelt, N.J. The mural can still be seen in the Roosevelt Public School.
“Ben Shahn’s mural for the community center at Jersey Homesteads, Roosevelt, is a fresco – a painting done on fresh, moist plaster with pigments dissolved in water. It depicts the life of Jewish immigrants coming to America in the 1930s.
Shahn was an American Social Realist painter. His paintings often focused specifically on social problems and the hardships of everyday life. His work was influenced by Diego Rivera, a famous Mexican Social Realist, who taught him how to fresco while working on a mural for Rockefeller Center in New York City. The Homestead painting was Shahns first completed mural.
After 1930 many of Shahns paintings depicted subjects of moral outrage and protest. The most famous is his Sacco and Vanzetti series from 1931. The figures in those paintings appear largely simplified and two dimensional. Shahn depended greatly on the use of line.
Shahn was commissioned to paint this mural for Jersey Homesteads community center in 1936. It is located in one of the elementary schools in the development. It is thought that the story structure of the mural is based on a Jewish sacred text, the Haggadah: a narrative of slavery, deliverance, and redemption. The mural, just like the Haggadah, is broken down into three main areas.
The Jersey Homesteads mural illustrates the struggle of a Jewish immigrant coming to America. The story starts in Germany and ends in America. At the beginning of the mural, on the far left side, there are German soldiers and images of Ellis Island. In the center are immigrants coming over the bridge (shown here). One of the immigrants is Albert Einstein, a friend of Shahns who also lived in Jersey Homesteads for a time. At the center right, factory workers are pictured, illustrating the poor jobs and working conditions many of them had. Above this are people sleeping outside because of the dreadful ventilation in their tenement homes. This too shows the hardships many people went through when coming to America. The narrative ends in American, shown at the far right side, with a table surrounded by men planning a project.”
http://www.ettc.net/njarts/details.cfm?ID=378 http://music.columbia.edu/roosevelt/ http://www.newdealartregistry.org/artists/Shahnben/