University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The State of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)

DeLoughery, Frank
New deal art in Wisconsin,   pp. 13-14

Page 13

New                Peal Art in                               Wisconsin
                                By Frank DeLoughery
  Like other people in 1933, many artists were desti-
tute and hungry. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
authorized a Public Works of Art Project which, in a
six month period, employed 3,749 artists and pro-
duced over fifteen thousand completed works. Avail-
able statistics on the number of Wisconsin artists
employed on New Deal projects are incomplete, but
there may have been several hundred.
  Prior to the New Deal projects, the nearest substi-
tutes for art in most schools and institutions were
dreary pictures of Washington, Lincoln, and the
Roman Coliseum. Today, schools and public build-
ings are adorned with sculptures and paintings, much
of it New Deal, some quite valuable.
  The artists employed on New Deal projects in Wis-
consin were professionally trained in colleges and
major art schools. Nearly every ranking artist of
post depression years had gleaned some experience
on New Deal projects. The freedom and encourage-
ment offered by the programs helped bring American
artists to the fore in the world of art after World
War II.
   The director of the Public Works of Art Project
in Wisconsin in 1933-34 was Charlotte Russell
Partridge, who also directed the Wisconsin Federal
Art Project from 1935-39. A native of Minneapolis,
Miss Partridge had studied and taught at a number
of major institutions before joining the arts faculty
at Milwaukee-Downer College in 1914. She was di-
rector of the Layton Art Gallery, and of the Layton
School of Art, which she had founded in 1920.
   Most Wisconsin artists in New Deal projects were
associated with Layton or with the art department of
the Milwaukee State Teachers' College. A relatively
small number of graduates of the University of Wis-
consin in Madison participated in some aspects of
the federal programs.
   One of the Wisconsin artists was Forest Flower, a
 poor frail boy from Portage High School, whose
 name was a joke to his schoolmates. As a protege
 of novelist Zona Gale he won several scholarships
 and awards for painting at Layton School of Art.
 His first professional assignment was in a Civilian
 Conservation Camp.
 Frank DeLoughery is an archivist with the State
 Historical Society of Wisconsin. His special area of
 interest is the Works Progress Administration (WPA)
 and other Depression-era programs and events.
  Charles Thwaites of Milwaukee worked in oil,
watercolor, tempera, and mural design. Possibly one
of Wisconsin's better known artists at the time, he
had exhibited throughout the country. His works
were hung in many public museums, galleries, and
private collections.
  The esteemed seventy-year-old Vladimir Shamberk
had painted portraits of Pope Pius XI and of many
European dignitaries for fees which often had ex-
ceeded five figures. For a hundred dollars a month,
Shamberk painted for the Federal Art Project in the
Cistercian Monastery at Okauchee.
  Edmund Lewandowski, a graduate of Milwaukee's
Kosciusko Junior High School, also had won many
awards at Layton and nationally. His watercolor,
Lobster Markers, in 1936 was included in a national
exhibit of federal project art in the Phillips Memorial
Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. Lewandowski suc-
ceeded Miss Partridge as director of the Layton
School, a post he held until his resignation in 1972.
In March of that same year he was awarded the
"Man of the Year" title by Milwaukee's Foremost
Civic Association.
   Of the many controversies about New Deal art
projects in Wisconsin perhaps the most interesting
centered on the murals of Robert W. Schellin. The
independent young native of Akron, Ohio, was a
product of Milwaukee's East High School, and a
1933 graduate of art education at Milwaukee State
Teachers' College. He had worked in evening classes
at Layton, and carried off the Milwaukee Art Institute
Medal, with a hundred dollar prize.
   His colleague of that time, Frederick M. Logan,
now professor of art education at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison mentions two artists, Gustave
Moeller and Myron C. Nutting, who greatly influ-
enced Schellin's work at the time. Logan notes that,
while Mexican muralists influenced most contempo-
rary artists, Schellin's work had none of their harsh
color or design. His colors were softly blended, the
lines clear and graceful, even elegant.
   Many young artists of the day were interpreting the
life and scenes of their own environments. Schellin's
milieu was Milwaukee in the Great Depression.
   The mural was no pretty historical representation,
but a social commentary, with nudes and dreary
figures of workmen representing toil and depression

Go up to Top of Page