It’s a nice sentiment, but just what does it mean? It’s not just the end of summer and another reason to barbecue. Labor Day was proclaimed a federal holiday in 1894, in order to pay tribute to “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” which has over the years been completely lost in translation. But around the turn of the century, the struggle between labor and management often led to strikes and violence. Desperate to curry favor with labor that held him in popular contempt, President Cleveland declared the first Monday of September the worker’s holiday, avoiding associations with May 1, May Day and the Haymarket Riots.
Considering how many times in this country’s history, those struggling for the rights of workers in the face of oppression, fraud and violence have been met with even greater violence, I try to keep in mind the real meaning of Labor Day. The things we take for granted today, were fought for yesterday at great cost. If you like your eight-hour workday, raise your glass to the unionists of yesterday, as they bled for it.
So, in honor of the occasion, I present to you an exhibit from the American Art Museum in Washington, DC. ‘1934: A New Deal for Artists‘ finished it’s run last January, but the exhibition is online at Flickr. All the works contained therein were part of the Public Works of Art Project, which ran as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. For six months, artists from around the country captured their interpretations of “the American Scene.” Considering the breadth of talent, the varying interpretations of this topic was, as expected, diverse and compelling.
I have included a few of my favorite paintings, as well as some of those that focus on labor in such a trying time for America. So please, enjoy, and I highly encourage you to check it out and read further. Thanks!
Honestly, I could post a dozen more, I loved the show that much. The curators did a fantastic job in tying these works together, and with the context they were created within. It’s not longer on show in DC, but it is touring the country through 2014, so do check it out if it is near your hometown!
Whatcom Museum of History and Art in Bellingham, Washington (September 16, 2010 – January 9, 2011)
The Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando, Florida (February 3, 2011 – May 1, 2011)
Oklahoma City Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (May 26, 2011 – August 21, 2011)
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama (September 24, 2011 – January 8, 2012)
Muskegon Museum of Art in Muskegon, Michigan (February 16, 2012 – May 6, 2012)
Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota (June 2, 2012 – September 30, 2012)
Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin (February 16, 2013 – April 28, 2013)
Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa (September 28, 2013 – January 5, 2014)
Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine (Jan. 30, 2014 – May 11, 2014)