WPA Art in America
The New Deal enacted during the Depression included an agency known as the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This agency encompassed a number of areas, with the largest focus being on road, bridge, and dam construction. It employed millions of jobless Americans and much of their work, including the TVA, became fixtures in American infrastructure.
Interestingly, the WPA also included funding for artists. To its credit, no preference was given to "sellable" art and thus even abstract painters like Jackson Pollock were given support. That said, the term "WPA art" tends to connote artwork that often depicted construction scenes and social realism, often in mural form. It is also often associated with the Regionalism movement epitomized by artists such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood.
Today, this art remains popular among collectors. As one might suspect, the highest prices are commanded by the biggest art names. Still, even strong works by lesser known painters can bring good sums in the art market and should be something for a collector to consider acquiring.
One note of caution: true WPA works (i.e. those directly paid for by the government) were ruled by the courts some time back to still be the property of the US government. Many of these works, originally display in state and county buildings throughout the US, were dispersed over the years and fell into private hands. Should you come by one of these works (often times they will have a WPA plaque on the frame), tread carefully if you go to sell it. If it comes to the government's attention, they will confiscate the work. Usually you will be given the opportunity to donate it and receive a tax deduction... otherwise, it will simply be taken away from you. My advice: make the donation ;-)
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Bryan H. Roberts is a professional appraiser in Sarasota, FL. He is a member of the Florida State Guardianship Association and currently serves on the board of the local FSGA chapter. He is a past president of the Sarasota County Aging Network, a non-profit that provides grants to other non-profits benefiting seniors in need and is also a board member of PEL, an area non-profit whose resale store profits support programs and scholarships for at-risk and disadvantaged youth. He is certified in the latest Uniform Standards of Appraisal Practice (USPAP) Equivalent