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WIU to Show WPA Art Collection

An upcoming show at Western Illinois University’s Art Gallery and the Figge Art Museum in Davenport features art created for W-I-U as part of the WPA and the Federal Art Project in the 30’s and 40’s.

Director of Western’s Art Gallery, Ann Marie Hayes-Hawkinson said that the pieces in the collection provide a direct connection to the university's past.

"They would have been studied no doubt by art students at that time, they would have been appreciated by faculty and staff members. Frankly, probably a lot of our students would rather look at contemporary art than perhaps these but they are important to the history of Illinois, to the history of the university," Hayes-Hawkinson said.

Credit WIU
Director of WIU Art Gallery Ann Marie Hayes-Hawkinson

She also said that there are many women artists represented in the collection, a progressive move at that time.

Director of the Art History program at Knox College and guest curator for the exhibit, Gregory Gilbert said are also African American artists represented in the collection.

He said that the pieces were also stylistically diverse.

"There was surrealism, semi-modern abstraction,  social realism. So I think if you don't take care of this art, you really lose historical knowledge of that kind of pluralism and artistic diversity," Gilbert said.

Gregory Gilbert Associate Professor and Director of the Art History Program

Gilbert said some WPA pieces were lost across the country when  publicly funded art fell out of style  and only began to be appreciated again in the 1970's and 80's.

Hayes -Hawkinson says that some of pieces still require restoration work before they can be transported to the show at the Figge this fall.

The exhibit will open at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport this September and at the W-I-U Art Gallery in January.

The WIU Foundation and the College of Fine Arts and Communication are still gathering funds to restore some of the works to be featured in the WPA collection.



Scott Stuntz is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.