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Exhibitions: Past

Toward an Era of Good Feeling

Works from the WPA's Federal Arts Project

September 8 – October 22, 2005

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The paintings in this collection were created in 1935 and 1936 by artists from the New England area. Besides reflecting the abilities and sensibilities of the people who made them, these paintings also provide a view of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA put artists and others back to work during the desperate times of the Great Depression.

The story of how this collection came into the hands of the Greater Fall River Art Association (GFRAA) is mirrored in other cities and towns across the country. Works created under the auspices of the WPA remained the property of the United States government, and after the WPA ended in 1942 many of the paintings, posters and murals were destroyed. However, on occasion, a cache of them would be stored away in an attic, a warehouse somewhere, or in the case of murals, hidden under layers of paint only to be rediscovered many years later.

This particular body of works was stored for some time in a warehouse in Boston. One day a local resident working in Boston was directed to remove and destroy a collection of these old canvasses. Instead, he crated the works and shipped them to his home in Fall River. They remained in his possession until his death. Sometime in the 1980s his sister donated the collection to the GFRAA with the request that the collection remain intact and that the donor remain anonymous. These works have been restored to their present condition by the GFRAA. This is the first time since the restoration project that they have been exhibited to the public.

In addition to the paintings, the gallery has created 12 topic and image panels. Each of the topic panels incorporates information and vintage photographs from the WPA Era and provides context for the time period in which the paintings were created.