Mabel Wellington Jack. Swan Dive. (Detail) c. 1935 1939. The United States General Services Administration, formerly Federal Works Agency, Works Progress Administration, on extended loan to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Collection, U.S. General Services Administration, WPA, Federal Art Project, 1935 1943

Art/Work: Women Printmakers of the WPA


In 1943, the U.S. General Services Administration entrusted to the BMA’s care nearly 1,000 prints made by artists employed by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP), which, from 1935 to 1942, offered employment to millions of workers affected by the Great Depression, including artists.

This exhibition features a selection of approximately 50 prints created by women printmakers who gave visual form to the fraught state of American society during the lead up to World War II. At a time when the kinds of work available to women changed, these artists—workers themselves—focused their print production on the human faces of labor and poverty in alignment with swelling communist and socialist movements in the U.S. By attending to labor inside and outside the home, these women used their imagery to call out racial, gendered, and class-based inequities exacerbated by the temporary collapse of a capitalist economy. 

Reexamining the contributions of WPA women artists offers fresh insight into both their moment and the ways these challenges still manifest today. An adjacent gallery will highlight how WPA artists used the printing press to oppose fascism, creating works about the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) even while U.S. citizens were banned from aiding Spain. 

Curated by Virginia Anderson, BMA Curator of American Art and Department Head of American Painting & Sculpture and Decorative Arts; and Robin Owen Joyce, BMA Getty Paper Project Fellow. 

This exhibition is generously supported by the Sigmund M. and Mary B. Hyman Fund for American Art.