Conserving Western Illinois University's "A New Deal for Illinois"

“I want to thank the conservators and staff at The Conservation Center in Chicago for their excellent work on Western Illinois University’s Federal Art Project collection. In particular, I wish to acknowledge April Hann-Lanford, Vice President of Client Services, for her expert advice, professionalism, and patience during this eight-month process.”

Ann Marie Hayes-Hawkinson, Director, Western Illinois University Art Gallery

A New Deal for Illinois: The Federal Art Project Collection of Western Illinois University features 40 of the 72 works of art that were acquired by the university in the 1930s and 1940s, when it was operating as Western Illinois State Teachers College. Collection highlights include such notable artists as Archibald J. Motley, Jr., Gertrude Abercrombie, Aaron Bohrod, and Romolo Roberti, who were prominent in many of the innovative artistic movements of the 1930s, including Surrealism, Precisionism and Social Realism. WIU’s FAP art collection is particularly distinctive for the inclusion of a large number of women artists and African-American artists, reflecting the liberal democratic policies of the New Deal to promote social and economic equality during a period of profound adversity and turbulent cultural change.

Although these paintings and prints may be appreciated for their aesthetic value alone, WIU also treasures the Federal Art Project Collection because of its historical importance. Like many institutions across the country, the University and the Macomb community benefited from the federal government’s desire to bring art to large and small communities across the country. These works, which were on display in campus offices, classrooms, and public spaces, speak to the power of art to educate and inspire during challenging times. Now, more than 70 years later, the story behind the formation of this collection and the artist’s stories remain as important as ever.

In spring of 2013, the WIU Foundation and the University Art Gallery brought conservators from The Conservation Center to campus to assess the condition of the works. Although a few pieces had been conserved, it was clear the majority of the works would benefit from treatment and archival framing. The Center’s conservation team ended up caring for 40 works of art during a four-month period, prior to A New Deal for Illinois opening at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa—the first stop for the exhibition—on September 14, 2013. Now, WIU is prepared to welcome home its prized FAP collection on January 18, when the exhibition opens in Macomb.

We welcome you to join The Center’s April Hann-Lanford at the WIU Art Gallery on Tuesday, January 28, for a public reception and discussion. She will highlight several examples of art conservation work completed on WIU's Federal Art Project Collection in preparation for this exhibition. April also will explain the art conservation work completed on one of the history of Illinois murals in Sherman Hall.

An insightful video, produced by University Television, documents this extraordinary collaboration between WIU and The Center.

Archibald J. Motley, Jr., Jazz Singers, 1934. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration, Commissioned through the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP).

Kathleen Buehr Granger, Pale Roses (Still Life with Flowers). 1936. Oil on canvas. Western Illinois University Art Gallery. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program. Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration Commissioned through the New Deal art projects.

Charles Turzak, River and Canal Transportation, from the portfolio A History of Illinois in Woodcuts, 1933-34. Woodcut. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration Commissioned through the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP).

Romolo Roberti, Roofs (Tree Studios), 1934. Oil on canvas. Western Illinois University Art Gallery. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration, Commissioned through the New Deal art projects.

Justin Gilman

The business end of Twin. In charge of landing interesting new projects, making clients happy, and coffee. A maker of beautiful music and master of oral sound effects. A secret Jim Henson nerd. Will always find ways of working smarter. Will never participate in karaoke.

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