Where's the Art?

In a November 16, 1938 memo, the Procurement Division’s Section of Fine Arts proposed that 1% of the total cost of the building project be reserved for murals and sculpture. This had become the standard for many New Deal era projects, including the recently completed Federal Triangle buildings. However, the Architect of the Treasury was hesitant to commit funding for artwork, stating that there was no room in the budget. Eventually, funding was found and a program of exterior reliefs and interior murals was carried out for the Social Security Building.

As the subsidiary component, the Railroad Retirement Building received no interior artistic decoration. Its sculptural program was limited to two relief sculptures designed by Robert Kittredge and located over the central doorways at the two principal (C Street) entrances. Kittredge’s contract for the panels, entitled “Railroad Retirement Employment” and “Railroad Retirement,” was awarded on December 1, 1939; the total fee was $2,800.

Robert Yates Kittredge (1910-2003) was born in Cairo, Egypt to a playwright and newspaper foreign correspondent. He spent most of his youth in New York City and began his art training early. At the age of nine, he was a sculptor’s apprentice in New York and, at 14, attended the Pennsylvania Academy for the first of two summers. He returned to New York to work in sculpture studios for three years and then studied for two winters at the Munich Academy. Other works for the Section of Fine Art include sculptures for the U.S. Post Office in Flagstaff, Arizona and the Post Office and Forestry Building in Springerville, Arizona.

New Deal Art Programs

During the New Deal era, the U.S. Government administered four separate art projects that operated from 1933 to 1943. The projects produced thousands of paintings, sculpture, and works on paper.

Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), 1933-1934: The Public Works of Art Project was the first federal art project for artists. Artists were on payrolls and received weekly salaries.

The Section of Fine Arts (The Section), 1934-1943: Originally called the Section of Painting and Sculpture, the Section of Fine Arts awarded commissions to artists through competitions. The primary objective was to secure the best quality artwork for installation into public buildings.

Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP), 1935-1938: Though it was under the supervision of the Treasury Department, the Treasury Relief Art Project employed artists to create paintings and sculptures for existing federal buildings.

Works Progress Administration, Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP), 1935-1942: The Federal Art Project was the largest of the New Deal art programs in both its scope and the number of artists employed.

These four programs produced thousands of works of art from 1933 to 1943. In 1934, the federal government began loaning or allocating the moveable artworks created under the New Deal art programs to public agencies and nonprofit institutions. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is the federal agency that is responsible for inventorying these loaned artworks. For site-specific works permanently installed in federal buildings, such as large murals and sculpture, GSA acts as the direct steward, overseeing the care of this important national cultural resource.

GSA Fine Art Collection

The GSA Fine Arts Program manages the collection of fine art found throughout executive branch federal buildings in order to ensure its safety, accessibility, preservation, and appropriate use in order to enhance and promote high-quality work environments for federal agencies and the public they serve. The Fine Arts Collection is one of our nation's oldest and largest public art collections. It consists of permanently installed and moveable mural paintings, sculptures, architectural or environmental works of art, and works on paper dating from 1850 to the present. These civic works of art are in federal buildings and courthouses across the United States. In addition, more than 20,000 small moveable New Deal works of art are on long-term loan to museums and other nonprofit institutions. Maintained by GSA as a part of our national and cultural heritage, the Fine Arts Collection serves as a reminder of the important tradition of individual creative expression.

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