Artwork produced through the Federal Art Project/Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA) has long been a part of the Wustum Museum of Fine Arts and Racine Art Museum history, so there have been several showings of it over the years. Early gifts of WPA artwork—primarily textiles, drawings, watercolors, prints, and photography—also foreshadowed the collecting directions of Wustum and RAM with an emphasis on contemporary craft, works on paper, and works by women. However, this is the first exhibition focused primarily on the role of women artists associated with the WPA in RAM’s collection.
As seen through their artwork, these women artists reflected on the world around them—capturing the social, cultural, and everyday climate of a nation battling financial depression and somewhat unknowingly on the brink of a world war. While specific artists can be linked with the works on paper, most of the textile samples are attributed to anonymous craftspeople associated with the Milwaukee Handicraft Project (MHP). The MHP was a landmark Wisconsin-based endeavor that employed over 5,000 people—mainly women and many of color—to create handcrafted domestic-oriented goods to be sold to schools, libraries, and other public institutions.
Women and the WPA highlights a significant moment in American art and history through works on paper, textiles, and other objects associated with the MHP—including a recently acquired doll jacket and large fabric swatches.