May 14, 2009

Admiring the art and historical significance of WPA posters

Vintage illustrations have always been a favourite form of artwork of mine. Among the most striking pieces of mid-twentieth century artwork to have captured my interest over the years are the myriad of posters produced by some of the artists employed under President Roosevelt’s New Deal agency, the WPA (Works Progress Administration or Work Projects Administration, as it was renamed in 1939).

At least two thousand different WPA posters are known to have been created during the late 1930s and early 40s, of which thankfully hundreds have survived to this day. Their subject matter was diverse, ranging from social causes to WW2 patriotism slogans to travel advertisements. WPA posters were generally colourful and redolent of the art deco style of illustration. Many of these wonderfully designed pworks are today housed in the Library of Congress, which has a collection of over 900 of them.

Below is a selection of ten WPA posters which I’m particularly fond of. Their striking art is an instant reminder of a period of history that was full of uncertainty and serious questions about the future (the US was struggling through the Great Depression, watching the world go to war and eventually entering WW2), where money was often tight and community spirit and national pride were highly encouraged.

{All images from the Library of Congress’ database of WPA posters.}

The world was both a very different and very similar place to the one we inhabit today when these posters hung on walls around America, but just because a few decades have passed since their creation, it doesn’t mean that you can’t surround yourself with their distinctive blend of art and social conscious today. A terrific online shop by the name of the Retrovert sells posters, greeting cards, mugs, and shirts sporting artwork found on various WPA posters.

While some of the subject matter of the WPA designs may seem outdated, propaganda-like, or a tad wonky by today’s standards, others carry messages which still ring as true now (perhaps even more so as we suffer through the current economic recession) as the day they were produced - and without a doubt each of these historically important posters is a unique and creative work of art.


  1. They are an interesting visual reflection of thoughts and pressures of the times. I like how simple they are, you really notice them.

  2. *sigh*

    I've always loved WPA posters...thanks so much for sharing some of your favorites!

    You have quite a lovely blog here. I know that I'll be stopping back in often to see more of your perspective on life!


  3. love this...thanks for sharing : ) xox

  4. Totally endorse the words of my esteemed fellow blogger, Moonspinner, above! How much those posters of the Great Depression touch a chord TODAY especially here in Spain with unemployment the highest in Europe @ 17% and some Spaniards even selling their livers to make ends meet...!
    Some pause for thought eh...?
    Anyway just wanted to say how much I enjoy yr site & will be back again soon!
    All good wishes
    btw As a student, travelled through Canada by Grayhound (still got a sore rear as proof!)& really enjoyed Ontario especially Toronto. Terrific city.

  5. Hi lovely ladies, thank you each very much for your comments. It's wonderful to know that you guys enjoy WPA posters as well.

    @ Nora Johnson, indeed, the world is suffering through some soul-weary, bleak times at the moment. It's terrifying to think of the extent some people will go to make ends meet. I would only sacrifice an organ to save a loved one, but I do honestly understand the level of overwhelming desperation that would drive a person to such extremes. Let's all hope as hard as we can that the economic crisis will end soon and no one else will have to take such profound measures.

    Thank you again Moonspinner, Emme, alexanra, and Nora for your comments. I hope you each have a beautiful weekend.

    ♥ Jessica

  6. Posters for the People: The Art of the WPA is a fantsatic (and huge) book for fans of these splendid posters.

  7. @ The Sophisticate's Diary, thank you so much for mentioning that title, I wasn't aware of it. A new book for the Amazon wish list for sure.

    Thank you again, my dear.

    Wishing you a lovely Sunday,
    ♥ Jessica

  8. Your web site is great!

    Here is a blog post about an Ohio WPA artist:

  9. Thank you very much, anonymous reader, that link is throughly interesting! I really appreciate you sharing it here.

    Happy wishes of a lovely weekend to you,
    ♥ Jessica

  10. I love looking at different forms of art and know the story behind the each of them. I like most especially happy art because of the positivism that radiates through it.

  11. Wish there was more information about the artists ...

    1. Hi Julie, thank you very much for your comment. I always enjoy it when older ones like this continue to receive feedback many years later.

      While not an immense amount is known about each and every person who contributed as a WPA artist, thankfully their is some info to be had on various people and I'd highly recommend checking out the following sites such:

      I hope that helps. Many thanks again for your comment.

      ♥ Jessica