On March 7, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) dedicated the visually striking posters of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) as a booklet of 10 designs and 20 Forever stamps during a first-day-of-issue ceremony at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y.
The posters were created by Depression-era artists employed by the Poster Division of the WPA Federal Art Project. The booklet features 20 stamps of 10 different designs originally created to support the civic-minded ideals of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.
“It is undeniable that Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood the importance of visual design and how it could communicate powerful messages of optimism, hope and perseverance. It is also fitting that these WPA posters are being memorialized on postage stamps, because President Roosevelt had a lifelong fascination with stamps as artwork,” said Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer Megan J. Brennan, who dedicated the stamps.
Brennan was joined at the stamp dedication ceremony by Paul Sparrow, director, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum; Anthony Musso, author and historian; and David B. Roosevelt, grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
“These stamps commemorate the work of my grandfather’s most ambitious New Deal program and the artwork generated from the WPA artists,” said Roosevelt. “Much of the artwork adorned public buildings built by WPA employees. Perfect examples include the post offices in Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park and Rhinebeck, to name only a few in the Hudson Valley, and many others around the nation.”
Antonio Alcalá served as the art director of the project and designed the stamps with Maribel O. Gray.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS COLLECTION
The stamps feature 10 illustrative posters from the Library of Congress collection.
Formed in 1935 as the Works Progress Administration — renamed Work Projects Administration in 1939 — the WPA provided millions of jobs during the Great Depression. Lasting until 1943, the WPA’s Federal Art Program’s Poster Division was absorbed into World War II programs.
The artists of the WPA greatly advanced silkscreen-printing, an economical medium, also employing woodblock and lithographic processes. At the height of the Federal Art Program, cities in 18 states had Poster Project offices, printing 2 million posters of about 35,000 designs.
Posters were displayed in public spaces and municipal buildings to encourage domestic travel, education, health, conservation and other civic ideals, while stimulating morale and the economy. Decades of obscurity followed the posters’ disappearance from the American scene but appreciation of the posters’ distinctive style and artistic influence has grown since their re-discovery.
Many records about the Poster Division are long lost. Known poster office locations and publication dates are as follows:
- “Hiking,” Chicago, 1939.
- “Field Day,” Chicago, 1939.
- “Discover Puerto Rico, U.S.A.,” New York City, ca. 1936–40.
- “City of New York Municipal Airports,” New York City, ca. 1936–37.
- “Visit the Zoo,” Pennsylvania, ca. 1936–41.
- “Work With Care,” Philadelphia, ca. 1936–37.
- “The National Parks Preserve Wild Life,” New York City, ca. 1936–39.
- “Work Pays America! Prosperity,” New York City, ca. 1936–41.
- “See America Welcome to Montana,” New York City, ca. 1936–39.
- “The United States’ First Foreign Trade Zone,” New York City, 1937.
The posters featured on these stamps are from the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, which houses the largest collection of WPA posters.