WPA Posters Inspire A New Generation

Grand Canyon poster by Matt Brass

Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon poster by Matt Brass
Photo Credit: Matt Brass

Inspired by the New Deal arts programs, Creative Action Network (CAN), an online community of mission-driven artists, announced a crowdsource campaign to create a new collection of “See America” posters celebrating America’s national parks.  Within a few weeks about two hundred poster designs hit their inbox, with new submissions arriving daily.

“With today’s digital tools, individual artists have the power to create and share their work as never before. That’s why now is the time to pick up where the New Deal left off, and harness America’s creative energy,” says Max Slavkin, CAN’s co-founder.

During the 1930s the WPA’s Federal Art Project put thousands of unemployed artists to work. FAP poster divisions opened in 48 states, churning out posters promoting art, theater, safety, education, health, and travel. Early on, the posters were hand-painted and produced in small quantities. But in 1938, a poster campaign to encourage visitation to the national parks was launched in Berkeley, California, using new silkscreen techniques that enabled full-color posters to be printed in bulk. The posters, which sold for about twelve cents a piece, were distributed to Chambers of Commerce in towns surrounding the parks. In the 1940s the remainders were sent to the parks. Few original posters survive, but quality reproductions abound: https://www.rangerdoug.com

Luis Prado, Craters of the Moon poster

Craters of the Moon
Luis Prado, Craters of the Moon poster
Photo Credit: Luis Prado

Seventy-five years after the national park posters first appeared, CAN, in partnership with the National Parks and Conservation Association and Posters for the People, revived the “See America” campaign using social media. In January, a collection of the new posters was shown in San Francisco and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. More exhibitions are in the works. The “See America” designs are for sale, with forty percent of proceeds going to the artists.

Here’s one of the WPA posters that appeared on “The Living Dead” (see comment below):

Save Your Eyes WPA Poster




Susan Ives is communications director for the Living New Deal and editor of the Living New Deal newsletter.

2 comments on “WPA Posters Inspire A New Generation

  1. The WPA on “The Living Dead”? Stephen Seufert & Brent McKee have alerted us to the fact that some WPA posters made their way into an episode of the popular TV series, The Living Dead, in Season 4, Episode 10 “Inmates” and Episode 11 “Claimed,” air dates February 16 and 23, 2014. We’ve posted a sample at the end of the above news item about the WPA inspiring a new generation. Apparently so!

  2. There was also a WPA poster in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi series “Falling Skies.” I don’t recall the exact episode, but it was a scene inside the school building where the 2nd Massachusetts was taking refuge in (season 2 I think). The poster was “September: Back to Books,” showing a student raising a book with his hand.

    It’s interesting to see the work of the unemployed–created during the Great Depression–being used in some of today’s big budget TV productions.

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