Posters for the People: The Art of the WPA is a beautiful book from Social Arts which collects hundreds of Works Progress Administration (WPA) posters in one volume. The posters range from work place safety to public health campaigns to war information and show the wide range of ideas and initiatives the government used to tackle the Great Depression. Contrasting the initiatives and the scope of government implicit in the initiatives to today’s government, the government had not only desired a larger reach, but had a some what paternalistic stance or an uncritical belief if progress. However, it is clear the government was willing to try many different approaches to dealing with the depression and one can marvel at the range of ideas.
The art of the posters is a large part of the value of the book. The WPA employed out of work artists and they attempted to add their skills to the effort to end the depression. Seldom are the posters simple instructions using only text, but a mix of graphic styles using techniques from commercial art and fine art to create illustrations that range from the abstract to to the pictorial. In many of the posters there is a clear understanding of the power of the image and little text to clutter the message. Often the posters play on national themes and use the imagery of national icons to give one a sense of pride. The strongest posters are those that make an image iconic and use few words to describe it.
Below are a sample of some of the most interesting photos. These are from the Library of Congress collection which has hundreds of posters in its collection. The book also has a web site, www.postersforthepeople.com.