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Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) opens At Work. Prints from the Great Depression

Salt Lake City, UT – The Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) and the American West Center (AWC) at the University of Utah are pleased to present At Work: Prints from the Great Depression, an exhibition exploring the role of work and art during one of America’s most trying eras. At Work prompts contemporary questions about the place of labor in our lives today, a theme that is further explored through a series of companion programs and projects.

The At Work exhibition was organized through the collaborative efforts of AWC director Matthew Basso, University of Utah Department of History graduate student Emily Johnson, and UMFA curator Donna Poulton. At Work will be on view at the UMFA from February 10 to May 6, 2012.

“Remembered as one of the most devastating periods in the history of the United States, unemployment and the Great Depression are linked in people’s minds for good reason,” says Dr. Basso. “At its height, the Depression left more than 20 percent of Americans out of work, and iconic images of Dust Bowl migrants and soup kitchens dominate our picture of 1930s America. But as the exhibition At Work reveals, Depression-era artists were equally interested in depicting people at work.”

At Work features more than 60 prints by Thomas Hart Benton, Herschel Levit, Claire Mahl and dozens of other printmakers, many of whom were among the 5,000 visual artists employed by the federal government in the 1930s. Their prints provide a complex portrait of the place of work in the social politics of the era. They illustrate, for example, that many white-collar workers were forced to take blue-collar jobs after the collapse, and that government programs designed to support family breadwinners often left women with limited opportunity for paid work.

Printmaking became a particularly popular artistic mode of expression for Depression-era artists. Inherently democratic, the medium enabled printmakers to easily create and cheaply distribute copies of their work. Many artists celebrated the working class through their prints, creating dignified images of farmers, railroad workers, seamstresses, and street vendors.

At Work features some similarly heroic images of the working class, with prints depicting muscular men building dams, drilling oil or working in factories. The exhibition draws parallels between the hard labor of these men and images of women working at home, serving as seamstresses or cooking meals. A less heroic portrait of the working class is also present in At Work, as some artists portrayed hardened, stoop-shouldered victims of the economic crisis.

The prints featured in At Work are drawn from the collection of Marcia and Ambassador John Price.

Related Projects

Men at Work
The inspiration for the At Work: Prints from the Great Depression exhibition came from the recent discovery of a lost 1941 Federal Writers Project book manuscript entitled Men at Work. This manuscript provides a literary portrait of Americans working a variety of jobs during the Depression, and will be published for the first time by the University of Utah Press later this year.

Wo/Men at Work
At Work: Prints from the Great Depression is opening in conjunction with Wo/Men at Work, a hand-made artists’ book produced by the American West Center and Marriott Library’s Red Butte Press. Wo/Men at Work examines the place of women’s and men’s labor during the 1930s, as well as in more contemporary times, and asks us to meditate on how the production and consumption of work define who we are.

Public Programs

At Work Film Series: Pare Lorentz: Documentaries from the 1930s
2:00 p.m. on February 25, 2012, FREE
Pare Lorentz was a well-known film critic before he directed and wrote documentaries in the 1930s for the Roosevelt administration. His films about the Dust Bowl, clear-cutting, and other environmental issues were successful in garnering the director critical acclaim.

Evening for Educators
5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. on March 7, 2012, FREE
Evening for Educators is a workshop designed to help teachers incorporate printmaking in the classroom. The workshop is geared toward educators in all disciplines and grade levels. Teaching packets containing art images and information, biographies of the artists, and lesson plans with across-the-curriculum lessons are available. State in-service credit is available to educators.

At Work Film Series: Nine to Five (1980)
2:00 p.m. on March 10, 2012, FREE
Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton star in the 1980 comedy Nine to Five. Mistaken identity and miscommunication are at the center of this film as three colleagues fantasize about taking revenge on their “lying, hypocritical” boss.

Third Saturday Art Activity for Families: Self Portraits at Work
1:00 p.m.– 4:00 pm on March 17, 2012, FREE
At Work is a collection of Depression-era prints showing men and women at work. Join us in the galleries and the classroom to explore your own ideas about work, and then paint a picture of yourself doing your dream job. Third Saturdays are funded in part by the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks fund.

At Work Film Series: Soy Mi Madre (2009)
2:00 p.m. on March 31, 2012, FREE
Released in 2009, Soy Mi Madre examines issues of immigrant populations who live and work in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley. Inspired by Jean Genet’s 1974 film The Maids, the film explores the power dynamics that exist between people of disparate socioeconomic groups.

Third Saturday Art Activity for Families: Monoprints
1:00 p.m.– 4:00 pm on April 21, 2012, FREE
The UMFA is full of different kinds of prints this spring. From etchings and engravings to woodcuts and lithographs, prints of all kinds can inspire you to make your own print. Third Saturdays are funded in part by the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks fund.

About UMFA

As Utah’s official state art museum, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) at the University of Utah is the primary cultural resource for global visual arts and culture in the region. The UMFA has long served as a bridge from the University of Utah campus to the broader community, working to engage visitors in making meaningful connections with the world of art. The Museum’s permanent collection spans more than 5,000 years of human creativity and features over 18,000 works of art. An ambitious special exhibition program and a variety of educational events are scheduled year-round to foster dialogue and discovery. The UMFA is located in the Marcia and John Price Museum Building at 410 Campus Center Drive on the campus of the University of Utah. General admission is $7 for adults, $5 for youth and seniors, FREE for U of U students/staff/faculty and children under 6 years of age. For more information, call 801 581 7332, visit

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