Hard Times, 1929-1939

A great economic depression was sweeping the United States and the American workers, and the artists too, had their own troubles to worry about. Wages were being slashed, strikes were taking place everywhere. Strong men were selling apples on street corners. The young artist who depended on his hands to eat was catapulted violently from the heights of his ivory tower into the whirlpool of suffering humanity. There was absolutely no private patronage.

—Philip Evergood, 1945


The crash of the stock market in 1929 initiated a chain of events that crippled the American art scene. As money from private patrons and museums evaporated, artists joined the nation’s staggering number of unemployed workers. Beginning in 1933, government–sponsored art programs provided work relief for artists, employing them as muralists, painters, sculptors, art educators, and researchers. It was a decade of social change that accelerated the rise of unions and spirited art organizations.

The toils and triumphs of a wide range of individual artists and art organizations—documented in letters, photographs, journals, business records, and oral history interviews at the Archives of American Art—reveal how American artists survived against the odds.

Hear the voices of HARD TIMES:

  • Burgoyne Diller (1906-1965), painter and administrator [Audio clip | Interview transcript]
  • Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), photographer [Audio clip | Interview transcript]
  • Marion Greenwood (1909-1970), mural painter [Audio clip | Interview transcript]
  • William Zorach (1887-1966), sculptor [Audio clip | About the interview]
  • Lee Krasner (1908-1984), painter [Audio clip | Interview transcript]
  • Dora Kaminsky (1909-1977), printmaker [Audio clip | Interview transcript]
  • Edward Chavez (1917-1995), sculptor [Audio clip | Interview transcript]
  • Ibram Lassaw (1913-2003), sculptor [Audio clip | About the interview]
  • Lucienne Bloch (1909-1999), painter [Audio clip | About the interview]
  • Eugenie Gershoy (1901-1983), sculptor [Audio clip | Interview transcript]