Wisconsin Federal Art Project Records, 1931-1954


The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was instituted in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to alleviate Depression-era unemployment. The object of the WPA was to reduce dependence on private charity and Federal, state, and local relief by putting people to work on a variety of needed projects. The WPA spent almost $11 billion--80% of it in wages--between 1935 and 1943 and provided jobs for 8.5 million individuals. Although criticized by non-supporters of the New Deal, the WPA played a vital role during the 1930s in helping the nation's jobless maintain a minimum standard of living. In 1943, when the economy began to grow, Congress refused to grant the agency new appropriations and the WPA was disbanded.

One of the most successful, if controversial, projects undertaken by the WPA was the Federal Art Project (FAP), started in 1935. Employing artists, musicians, actors, and writers, the FAP focused upon nationalist and patriotic themes and used the then-current genre of social realism. Major painters as well as unknown artists were employed by the FAP and largely produced murals and sculpture. The program was based on a recognition that art was needed even in times of poor economy; it successfully spread original art to many small American towns. In addition it operated over 100 community art centers and compiled a 20,000-piece Index of American Design. In 1939 Congressional criticism led to drastic cuts in the agency's appropriations. In 1943 the Federal Art Project, like the rest of the WPA, was disbanded.

The Federal Art Project in Wisconsin was headed by Charlotte R. Partridge, director of the Layton Art Gallery in Milwaukee. Partridge served in this position from August 1935 until 1941 when she was succeeded by Margaret D. Clark. In 1939 Victor Volk became supervisor of the Index of American Design project in Wisconsin.