The 1930S were years of despondency and despair; the cloud of depression hung heavy over the land. But amid this gloom was a small group of visual artists who held on to hope. Some thought they could see a glimmer of light - that "cloud with a silver lining."
So they continued to dip into brightly colored palettes and fill their canvases with warmth and light - a kind of prelude to the promising years that would follow.The Depression was not been easy on visual artists. They struggled perhaps more than those in other professions. The last thing hungry people thought about was buying a work of art.
During these trying times, some artists gave up their profession, either temporarily or permanently, to find more lucrative work. But others held tenaciously to their first love - art. With faith, and with the limited help of government assistance, they were able to survive.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to the emergency of the Depression by instituting a program called the The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). It lasted only 6 months, but it was followed by other projects: The Section of Painting and Sculpture, the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the WPA Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP). These programs proved beneficial to the struggling artists.
Through these programs, painters and sculptors were commissioned to paint works for public buildings (buildings that were supported wholly, or in part, by taxation). To embellish them, these artists were encouraged to select themes from the American scene. Although emphasis was on landscape, acceptable were also still life and figure painting.
Among the first Utah artists to participate in these programs was Lee Greene Richards, who was invited to design murals for the Utah State Capitol rotunda. To do this, he invited three other artists to help him: Gordon Cope, Waldo Midgley and Henry Rasmussen.
Other early assignments went to James T. Harwood, Millard F. Malin, Florence Ware, Caroline Parry, Edwin Evans, Henry Moser, Irene Fletcher, Everett Thorpe and Howell Rosenbaum.
During the Depression years, many public buildings were embellished with outstanding works of art.
But not all of their works were sold or ended up in public buildings. Many smaller works - sketches and drawings - were placed in drawers and closets and then forgotten.
A year or so ago, Janie Rogers, an art history art student at the U. of U., visited with Werner Weixler of F. Weixler Co.
"We began talking about art of the Depression. I mentioned that people would like to collect work from that period, but many didn't know where to find it."
Weixler showed interest and that started the ball rolling.
Both he and Rogers contacted artists who were still living (Elzy J. Bird, LeConte Stewart and William J. Parkinson). Then they got in touch with families of deceased artists, who in turn started rummaging through those drawers and closets.
Dealers of early Utah art also helped "to fill in the gaps." Two of the most helpful were Dave Ericson of Gallery 56 and Tony Christensen of Anthony's Antiques.
As a result, Weixler and Rogers were able to put together a unique show of 60 to 70 works by more than a dozen Utah artists from the era of the Great Depression.
Featured artists include Carlos J. Anderson, Elzy J. Bird, Edwin Evans, Calvin and Irene Fletcher, Ranch S. Kimball, William J. Parkinson, Lee Greene Richards, D. Howell Rosenbaum, Cornelius Salisbury, Rosine Howard Salisbury, Matilda Thurman and Mabel Frazer. In addition will be a few works by Gordon Cope, J.T. Harwood and LeConte Stewart.
On Sept. 30, the public will get its first glimpe of Weixler's and Rogers' efforts.
"They'll not only have a chance to see many of these works for the first time, but have an opportunity to buy them," Rogers said.
"Another thing that is exciting about this show is that most of these sketches, watercolors and small oils works are affordable," Rogers added. "Prices will be particularly attractive to those who are just beginning to collect."
A number of these paintings have been restored by such Utah professionals as Brook Bowman and Mia Struteanu of Salt Lake and Stan Burningham of Provo.
Except for a few works by Thurman, all of the other works will be framed.
Rogers pointed out that almost all of the works on exhibit were done during the Great Depression. "Only an insignificant amount were not," Rogers said. "Some works by Parkinson are about the only ones."
The public is invited to receptions on Sept. 30 from 5-9 p.m. and Oct. 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the F. Weixler Co., 132 E St. The show will remain on display for one week, after which purchased works will be removed from gallery walls and taken home by excited purchasers.
Gallery hours after the openings are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. (Saturdays and evenings by appointment).
Although most of us did not encounter the Depression, we do experience moments of gloom and despair. What better way to combat those feelings than surrounding ourselves art works by those who successfully overcame years of depression?