Sragow Gallery

The Artists of WPA

The Artists of WPA

Leonard Pytlak, Harry Gottlieb, Lou Barlow, Betty Waldo Parish, Angelo Pinto, Paul Hambleton Landacre

The Graphic Arts Division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a major force in supporting artists from 1935-1942. The WPA was a government welfare program, and artists had to qualify. These government-sponsored workshops throughout the country gave artists the freedom to experiment with all forms of printmaking. They paved the way for the future of prints in this country; the creation of fine art original lithographs, screenprints, etchings, and blockprints, in limited editions.The artists were paid to do what they wanted, and equal rights were in effect for this program. Men and women made the same salary. There were great opportunities for African-American artists through various WPA art centers in Harlem, Cleveland, and Chicago, among others. The artist, Hughie Lee-Smith, who taught at Karamu House in Cleveland said; “There were no black projects or white projects. There were WPA Federal Art Projects, and that was one of the good things about that whole project.”

Prints went public by being placed in tax-supported institutions like hospitals, schools, and libraries. Each print was produced in an edition of 25, and the artist printed three copies for himself. Many institutions still have vast numbers of WPA prints, which are available for viewing, such as the NY Public Library; The Free Library of Philadelphia; The General Services Administration in Philadelphia; The Library of Congress; and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in Harlem.

Ask any artist who was on the WPA about their experiences and they will tell you what a wonderful time it was. They got paid to make their art and there was great camaraderie among the artists. Gustave von Groschwitz, who was the supervisor of the Graphic Art Division of the Federal Art Project in New York, said it was, “like a little bit of heaven.”

Image Credit:

Leonard Pytlak "Central Park at Night" c. 1939

Ask any artist who was on the WPA about their experiences and they will tell you what a wonderful time it was. They got paid to make their art and there was great camaraderie among the artists. Gustave von Groschwitz, who was the supervisor of the Graphic Art Division of the Federal Art Project in New York, said it was, “like a little bit of heaven.”

Ellen Sragow

Lou Barlow




Lou Barlow

Fishing Town



Lou Barlow "Speech"

Lou Barlow



4 1/2 x 6 1/4 in.

Wood engraving


Lou Barlow




Mark Freeman "9th Ave. el"

Paul Landacre

Desert Wall



Wood engraving


Mark Freeman



Linocut on Yellow Paper


Harry Gottlieb "Steel Mills"


Coal Mine Country

Harry Gottlieb


Harry Gottlieb

Coal Picker


12" x 15 7/8"




Harry Gottlieb

Parachute Practice

Blue Screenprint

Angelo Pinto

Shooting Gallery


6.8" x 8.5"

Wood Engraving


Leonard Pytlak (1910-1998)
An influential American printmaker, Leonard Pytlak studied art at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art and at the Art Students League, New York. From 1934 to 1941 he worked almost exclusively in the medium of lithography. As this was the troubling times of the Great Depression most of his lithographic work was published by the New York Chapter of the W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration), which kept many artists employed during these years. Commissioned W.P.A. prints were most often published in very small editions ranging from sixteen to twenty-five impressions. Around 1940 Leonard Pytlak began experimenting with the newly discovered graphic arts medium of the silkscreen. He was one of the first artists (along with Elizabeth Olds and Hyman Warsager) to be included in the silkscreen unit of the Graphic Arts Division of the New York Federal Arts Project. At this time he also founded the National Serigraph Society. Leonard Pytlak was elected a Guggenheim Fellow in 1941.

Harry Gottlieb (1895-1992)
Gottlieb was one of America's first Social Realist painters, influenced by the Robert Henri-led movement in New York City where Gottlieb settled in 1918. He was also a pioneer in screen printing, which he learned while working for the WPA.
In 1935, he joined the Federal Art Project; he was one of the first members of the WPA/FAP's Silk Screen Unit. Gottlieb remained active as a painter and screen printer after the closure of the Federal Art Project, and served as the first director of the short-lived American Artists School in New York City. Gottlieb was a leader and active member of the Artists Union and the Artists Congress. He lectured widely on art education and promoted the government support of artist and artistic projects.
His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Lou Barlow (1908-2011)
Lou Barlow was one of the finest wood-engravers of the 20th century. Working with very hard boxwood blocks and fine tools, he created extremely detailed prints with complex surfaces. He created drama and energy with his use of elongated figures in such well-known prints as “Cutting Ice,” “The Race,” “Ballerinas,” and “Jitterbugs,” all done on the WPA (Works Project Administration). He was on the WPA for five years (1934-1939). Barlow created a print a month for 2 ½ years and taught at settlement houses for 2 ½ years. In 1932-33, he studied art in Italy, France, and Germany. In 1942, he was drafted into the army and was selected to participate in a new Medical Arts Division of the Army Medical Corps. He served in Europe and Africa. After the war, he earned his living as a medical illustrator from 1946-1980. He was the Director of Scientific Illustration at William Douglas McAdams, the nation’s leading medical advertising agency at that time. He exhibited some of his medical paintings, watercolors, and drawings at the National Arts Club in New York in 1975. In 1981-86, he returned to making woodblock prints. One of his well-known prints from 1984 was the wood-engraving of Martin Luther King, Jr. in “1963 We Have a Dream 1983.” This print was included in the book In the Spirit of Martin, The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Verve Editions, 2002. Wood blocks became difficult to obtain around this time, so by 1987, he started making linocuts on contemporary social and political themes.

Betty Waldo Parish (1910-1986)
Betty Waldo Parish was an American printmaker and painter who exhibited with nonprofit organizations, including the Fine Arts Guild, the Pen and Brush Club, and the National Association of Women Artists, as well as commercial galleries. Best known for her etchings and woodcuts in a modernist representational style, she was also a watercolorist and oil painter and it was an oil painting of hers, "The Lower Lot," that won her the first of quite a few prizes during her career.

Angelo Pinto (1908-1994)
Born in Cas'Avellino, Italy, Angelo Pinto, a painter and printmaker, grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art. He continued his studies at the Barnes Institute, where he was mentored by Dr. Albert C. Barnes, and eventually taught there from the 1934 until 1992. Pinto's paintings are distinctively Surrealist in character, and are found in museums and galleries throughout the United States.

Paul Hambleton Landacre (1893-1963)
Paul Landacre was an active participant in the cultural flowering of interwar Los Angeles, described by Jake Zeitlin as a "small Renaissance, Southern California style". His artistic innovations and technical virtuosity gained wood engraving a foothold as a high art form in twentieth-century America. Landacre's linocuts and wood engravings of landscapes, still lifes, nudes, and abstractions are acclaimed for the beauty of their designs and a mastery of materials. He used the finest inks and imported handmade Japanese papers and, with a few exceptions, printed his wood engravings in his studio on a nineteenth-century Washington Hand Press, which is now in the collection of the International Printing Museum in Carson, California.

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