Amid years of great turmoil between the onset of a worldwide economic depression and America’s entry into a second global war, artists in the United States produced a remarkable body of creative work. From visual records of a documentary nature to more visceral reactions to difficult times, the sheer volume of art created during this period and the measure of its significance have prompted many to consider the era a coming of age for the nation in the visual arts. Nurtured in large part by President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs to put unemployed Americans back to work—including those involved in the creative professions—many thousands of painters, sculptors, printmakers, and photographers across America were active in creating varied and distinctive works of art.
Assembled from JCSM’s permanent collection to accompany the adjacent installation of John Augustus Walker’s Historical Panorama of Alabama Agriculture, painted during this same period, Picturing an Era features artists of wide renown, including Marsden Hartley and Grant Wood, alongside others of more regional or local recognition, such as Frank Applebee, Joseph Marino-Merlo, and Nell Choate Shute. A pair of easel paintings by WPA artists Walker and Richebourg Gaillard on view in the exhibition provides an interesting comparison with the larger, didactic Panorama on which they both worked. Other artists represented include Louis Bouché, Walker Evans, Frederick Hammersley, and Edmund Lewandowski.