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Saturday, 21 August 2010

Wild Life: WPA Posters, 1936-1940


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File:RNS Yellowstone 13399u.jpg

Yellowstone: artist unknown, 1938 (Dept. of Interior/National Park Service)



I remember as a child in Europe gloating over a map of North America that had "Appalachian Mountains" boldly running from Alabama up to New Brunswick, so that the whole region they spanned -- Tennessee, the Virginias, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, appeared to my imagination as a gigantic Switzerland or even Tibet, all mountain, glorious diamond peak upon peak, giant conifers, le montagnard émigré in his bear skin glory, and Felis tigris goldsmithi, and Red Indians under the catalpas. That it all boiled down to a measly suburban lawn and a smoking garage incinerator, was appalling. Farewell, Appalachia! Leaving it, we crossed Ohio, the three states beginning with "I," and Nebraska -- ah, the first whiff of the West! We travelled very leisurely, more than a week to reach Wace, Continental Divide, where she passionately desired to see the Ceremonial Dances marking the season opening of Magic Cave, and at least three weeks to reach Elphinstone, gem of a western state were she yearned to climb Red Rock from which a mature screen star had recently jumped to her death after a drunken row with her gigolo.

Again we were welcomed to wary motels by means of inscriptions that read:

"We wish you to feel at home while here. All equipment was carefully checked upon your arrival. Your license number is on record here. We reserve the right to eject without notice any objectionable person. Do not throw waste material of any kind in the toilet bowl. Thank you. Call again. The management. P.S. We consider our guests the Finest People of the World."

Vladimir Nabokov: from Lolita, 1955


Image, Source: digital file from original print

Zion National Park: artist unknown, c. 1938 (Dept. of Interior/National Park Service)

Image, Source: digital file from original item

The National Parks Preserve Wild Life: Bighorn Sheep: J. Hirt, 1939 (Dept. of Interior/National Park Service)

Image, Source: color film copy slide

Spare Our Trees: Stanley Thomas Clough, 1938 (Federal Art Project, Ohio)

Image, Source: digital file from original item

Fort Marion National Monument, Florida: artist unknown, 1938 (Dept. of Interior/National Park Service)

Image, Source: digital file from original print

Grand Canyon: artist unknown, c. 1938 (Dept. of Interior/National Park Service)

Image, Source: digital file from original print

Lassen Volcanic National Park: artist unknown, 1938 (Dept. of Interior/National Park Service)

Image, Source: color film copy transparency

See America: Alexander Dux, c. 1936-1939 (WPA Federal Art Project)

Image, Source: color film copy slide

See America: Frank S. Nicholson, c. 1936-1938 (WPA Federal Art Project)

Image, Source: color film copy transparency

See America: Welcome to Montana: Richard Halls, c. 1936-1938 (WPA Federal Art Project)

Image, Source: color film copy transparency

See America: Welcome to Montana: M. Weitzman, c. 1936-1938 (WPA Federal Art Project)

Image, Source: color film copy slide

Discover Puerto Rico U.S.A.: Where the Americas Meet: Frank S. Nicholson, c. 1936-1940 (New York City Art Project/Work Projects Administration)


File:Brookfield Zoo 1938 poster.jpg

Chicago Brookfield Zoo: artist unknown, 1938 (Federal Art Project, IIlinois)

Image, Source: color film copy slide

Wild Life: The National Parks Preserve All Life: Frank S. Nicholson, 1940 (New York City Art Project/Work Projects Administration)

Image, Source: color film copy slide

Don't Kill Our Wild Life: John Wagner, 1940 (Dept of Interior/National Park Service)


All posters from Works Projects Administration Poster Collection, Library of Congress

12 comments:

TC said...

Two American travelogues, from successive epochs and angles, that of the WPA and that of Humbert Humbert: artistic departments of the interior and exterior perhaps mingling borders, image and text...

(I've included the Brookfield Zoo panda because as a wee being I was taken to see it.)

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

Beautiful pictures, seems like a simpler time and place, that lone rider on horse looking up at triangular white peaks, that car in whose headlights deer are caught, that stone fort surrounded by a moat in Florida. A vision of such things, as Nabokov might have imagined the American west would be. . . . (Johnny wanted Fort Marion to be his "castle.")


8.21

light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, black shape of black pine branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

background invisible, vision
part of visual field as

starting point, of beginning
again, this “and” there

grey-white of fog against top of ridge,
blackness of crow flapping to the left

Anonymous said...

I better get me a pair of them tennis shoes so's I can get up out of this rocking-chair and
walk the Appalachian Trail

... just like ,Natty Bumppo and Cingingchuchuk did!

Anonymous Ed

ACravan said...

I've never seen any of these posters before and they're all so beautiful and memorable -- just splendid. The proper attitude would be simply to appreciate them, rather than to compare them to today's travel posters and rue the diminishment in imagination, skill and taste. Wow -- these are all so great. By the way, Blogger is only permitting me to sign in as ACravan. I never understand when they change the format and rules on you. I have enough difficulty navigating the original waters. Curtis

TC said...

Steve and Curtis,

I'm glad you like the WPA posters. The fact that excellent artists, working within a unified style, at a very high level of skill, were being employed by the government to do this sort of work, provides, of course, food for thought. It couldn't happen now, for many reasons, above all the decline in what Pound once called "the cultural level".

Nabokov's view of America represents the other side of the coin.

Curtis, I must apologize for the added complications with the comment procedures. In fairness to you and a few others whose friendly interest have kept this blog alive, I should explain.

If there had been any abiding rule with this endeavour, it has been to keep the site free of all the various forms of commercial and professional/career advancement aspects that evidently provide motive and raison d'être of most blogs that continue for any period of time.

Therefore, though throughout the time I've been doing this I've been unemployed, have had no earnings from the blog or other sources, and have in fact declined the opportunity to "monetize" (this, again, in hopes of keeping things relatively "pure"), it has been troubling, in recent months, to find that the amount of commercial spam posted here, usually via "Anonymous" postings whether of bots of human-bots, has increased inordinately.

Having to clean out several spams a day, on old posts, has long been routine. Having to clean out two dozen spams a day, however, has pushed us over the line.

Why is this happening? Our impression is that the fact that approximately six hundred people per day -- almost all of them from corporations and other businesses, universities and school districts, and government agencies, arriving during work-week work-day hours, from search engines, and coming for the sole purpose of uploading or downloading images -- has made somebody or something aware that this might be a good spam target.

(It is a minor irony that most of this traffic comes from Google searches, so that, in effect, I am to all intent and purposes, like it or not, an unpaid employee of Google.)

At any rate, the long and the short of it is that for the time being we have been forced to resort to the standard measures used by most blogs to deter spam: word verification, and requirement of a User ID (the latter by the way may be any blogger ID, and the easiest way to obtain one of these, if one does not already have one, is to simply set up a g-mail account, which is free and takes no more than a few minutes).

I hope it is not too much to ask that those who wish to engage in conversation take the simple step of identifying themselves in the standard prescribed fashion.

ACravan said...

Hi Tom. It's no problem for me at all and it's very kind of you to ask. I guess everyone eventually begins to think that they're living in a really weird era and I find all of the current cyber-pressures contributing to that feeling. The fact that Jane is currently IM-ing me from an adjacent room (I recognized her "boink-boink" emanating from my computer), rather than asking me a question in person, while I've left Caroline locked out of the house with the dogs for the past 15 minutes because I no longer recognize the rarely heard doorbell ringing sound is part of this bizarre fabric.

Given the week you and A. have had, I hope this is a very minor difficulty for you. I hope you're both doing well.

The posters are simply unbelievable. (I find the Puerto Rico one really intriguing and God bless the Brookfield Zoo panda.)

As you said, "It couldn't happen now, for many reasons, above all the decline in what Pound once called 'the cultural level'". I understand that and am less and less certain that this is a remediable situation.

TC said...

Thanks for understanding, Curtis. Yes, a harrowing week here, with further trials ahead, alas. So given the timing, the relentless spam attacks became intolerable. Spammers everywhere will be delighted to know, however, that some Costa Rican travel agency spam managed to slip in under the radar two hours ago, keywording on the word "beach"... so I suppose this qualifies as a No-Win Situation. The "good news", insofar as the earlier qualms about degree-of-difficulty are concerned, would be that if a Costa Rican travel agency can get in to comment, out of the extreme kindness of its heart, on what bargains it has to offer us, so, in turn, can anyone else who pleases. And, desperately seeking any angle of relief, at least they're not offering the old standards, the get-rich-on-the-internet schemes, the male enhancement potions...

Did I say "good news"??

(The only remaining defense walls would be "Comment Moderation" and "Members Only", both of which would seem, if not prohibitive, at least discouraging to the alleged "free flow of ideas"... on the other hand, as there seems to be no particular danger of an overflow of ideas currently... and as we few here are quite aware of who the fellow members of this congenial little shotgun wedding are... mmm... the term Morituri just popped obstreporously out of a tv memory and into the firing chamber, but of course no pilot in the squadron can speak for any other pilot... ah, for the good old days of the Brookfield Zoo!)

Elmo St. Rose said...

Humbert Humbert
etymology
brilliant light

surely off the beaten
path with lepidoptery
Nabakov

in a fly over
vast areas of green
and sparsely
inhabited America
off the interstates
and the more primitive
roads of the 40's and
50's with motel row

Lolita a great book
of language with multiple
levels of literary
irony

WPA posters...not a throw
back...

How about this?

"The National Park Poetry Project"

or privately financed contrast

"The Vegas Poetry Project"

or the confluence of modern
pictures of Bruhgel and Gary Snyder

"The Alaskan Cruise Poetry Project"

And as for Tom not wanting
commercial influence on his
Blog...as I said before, a
Guide to Culture...commercial
influence should be interested.

Ok, this is long winded for me
but I'm celebrating the creation
of my blog so I could comment
on TC's Blog

TC said...

Elmo,

The double-edged ironic genius of that book seemed to provide the proper degree of correction.

That it all boiled down to a measly suburban lawn and a smoking garage incinerator...

...ah, the first whiff of the West!

...a mature screen star...

...welcomed to wary motels...

"We wish you to feel at home while here. All equipment was carefully checked upon your arrival. Your license number is on record here. We reserve the right to eject without notice any objectionable person..."

& so on.

Nabokov was amused and supported in America, and had reason to be grateful, but there is no sentimentality, indeed there is a barely concealed wickedness in those sentences that captures the tone of an America I recognize from being attacked with impunity by its savage hounds.

Congratulations on your blog. It observes the first aesthetic rule of Robert Bresson, show nothing if you can, and if you can't, show as little as possible.

(I'd have been wise to adopt that one long ago.)

leigh tuplin said...

Really enjoyed seeing these posters Tom. Some remind me (in style) of the Soviet artists work on posters, which is comforting in the sense that even during bolshevik or 'cold' times, influences merge and boundaries are crossed.

TC said...

Leigh,

Very interesting to consider just what might be the influences behind this WPA/Federal Art Project approximate "house style" of the late Thirties.

A bit of study in the poster work of the 1930s was a real eye-opener. There are a number of very interesting styles in play. Some sense of the range of this can be got from the Library of Congress Artists' Posters Collection.

leigh tuplin said...

An 'eye opener' indeed, Tom. Just visited and will be returning - a great resource. Thanks.