NEW YORK CITY
Di Oisgebenkte Sho, 1941
Poems in Yiddish by David Seltzer
. . . in 1932, at the age of sixty, Helen West Heller left Chicago for the last time. After a brief visit with Roger on the farm in Canton, HWH traveled on alone to New York City; she would live here for the remainder of her life - creating many mature and complex woodcuts and wood-engravings. The move east brought Helen West Heller renewed energy and a strong determination to finally succeed as an artist.
Autumn, diptych (2 woodcuts), 1932
left: untitled (apple pickers) right: Raking Leaves
© 2014, collection of Scattergood-Moore
East Wind 1932
(2012, © private collection)
The Chair 1932
The two woodcuts above - "The Chair" and "East Wind" - depict Helen West Heller's love for pattern, which began asserting itself over her earlier white-line woodcutting technique. HWH's love for pattern would become more fully realized in her triptych of 1935, titled "American Earth" and especially in "(see images below).
Plowman of India aka Indian Plowman, 1932
woodcut or wood-engraving, 12 3/4" high x 9 1/4" wide
2015, © collection of Scattergood-Moore
This work is copyrighted
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
American Earth aka American Soil, 1935
left panel: "Cotton Picking" - middle: "Reforestation" - right: "Corn Husking"
left and middle panels, 2012 © collection of Scattergood-Moore
Helen West Heller's love of pattern came to . . . a more complete realization in a triptych of 1935, titled "American Earth", in which the subject most favored in this Depression times were people and the work of the land. "Cotten Picking," "Reforestation" and "Corn Husking" were the subtitles of that print. It was praised for the balanced blend of blacks and whites in the three panels, and for the simplicity of the figure of the black cotton picker in the first panel, by a critic (Dr. Ernst Harms) writing for the magazine Print Collector's Quarterly, which recorded the interesting achievements of printmakers. (4) Notice that the facial features in this triptych continue to be in the "white-line" wood-cutting technique.
AMERICAN SOIL aka AMERICAN EARTH
THEMES and SUBJECT-MATTER
Helen Garlinghouse, who had a gallery in Greenwich Village in the 1930s and was an important supporter of Helen West Heller . said, I handled both Helen and Maurice de Vlaminck, but I when I bought a piece it was always hers, not his, though I knew his were better investments. Helen West Heller told this same dealer that her paintings were studies for her woodcuts, which she came to see as the final form she strove for - even though many of her paintings during 1932-34 were actually completed after her woodcuts of the same image.
left: Jacob and Angel, 1932, woodcut
© collection of E.W., Warwick, RI
right: Jacob's Angel, 1932. oil on masonite
25" high x 21 3/8" wide
© Indianapolis Museum of Art
"INDEPENDENT INDEPENDENTS" EXHIBITION at Hotel Roosevelt, New York City
Helen West Heller with one of her modern paintings.
Mrs. Heller's work is on view in "Independent Independents"
Exhibition at the Hotel Roosevelt (NYEP April, 19, 1933)
When the exhibit of paintings by thirty-five ultra-indepentent artists was being hung at the Hotel Roosevelt a few days ago, a pleasant-looking woman who might have been a small-town grandmother and president of the local woman's club sat serenely amid the collection of long-haired young men and strong-minded women who were bringing in their pictures. Shabby but meticulously neat, she watched everything with alert interest, quite unaware of how out of place she looked in that strange gathering.
Yet that mid-face elderly woman was Helen West Heller, whose work has been praised by critics forits striking modernism plus its sound technique. Nearing sixty, shoo was making her first success as a modern painter, and no one was more pleased than she when one of her wood-cuts was the first thing sold in the exhibition.
Farmer, factory worker, house-keeper and writer, Mrs. Heller has also been a painter for more than fifty years. She started when she was four. Feeling young, looking younger than her hears, and with the enthusiasm of the youngest of rebel artists, she feels that only now has she been able to master her technique as she wanted. . .
"Most of the great thinks of the world have come from mature people," Mrs Heller said cheerfully. Despite the plainness of the one simple room where she lives in Brooklyn, she smiled with satisfaction. sometimes during the last few years she has been unable to buy paint and canvas, but she has gone plodding on with sturdy courage.
. . . Poverty and hard work rather than travel and study at expensive schools have been Mrs. Heller's teachers. . .
Modernist at Sixty
Mrs. Heller Achieves Her First
Success Among Ultra-Independents
New York Evening Post, Apr, 19, 1933
On April 29, 1933, Paul Harrison (a syndicated gossip columnist) wrote in his syndicated newspaper column, In New York the following:
NEW YORK, April 29 - For the average artist, or even the better-than-average artist, life in New York has been a pretty drab proposition. For it is estimated that there are at least 2,000 capable painters here who have won my recognition. Story books can't overstate their desperate circumstances, either; they do live in attics and lofts and municipal lodging houses. And they have been unable even to offer their work for sale because they have not the price of gallery fees.
But out of adversity has come inspiration, both in technique and business practice. For critics say that modernism in art has been nourished by poverty. And hard times have led to an organized movement for free shows, for colorful curb markets in Greenwich Village and for dignified exhibitions in the big hotels.
Just now, for instance, a group of prosperous artists, like McClelland Barclay (jewelry), and several society folk are sponsoring an exhibition at the Hotel Roosevelt. And the only qualification for entry is praise-worthy work. The show is called "From Realism to Surrealism." Since the latter is most succinctly defined as "an attempt to free the dream realm with reality." you may guess that some of the abstractions are rather startling. Hungry artist have weird dreams.
A Real Surrealist
There's Harrison Knox, for one. Besides being a vocal entertainer, he is a real Surrealist, and paints things like "Medusa" - a great purple pace with white arms sticking out of the forehead and a face dangling from the chin. Knox has been painting less than a year, but psychiatrists already have been around to check up on him. They believe his pictures must be an expression of his pent-up musical interest.
A more understandable modernist is Oronzo Gasparo. . .
Another Italian is Pino Janni. . .
Once Famous: Now
Helen West Heller started to paint when she was a farmer's wife in Illinois. Egg money bought pigments and brushes, and after a long day's work she would try to register the colors and forms of an imaginary world of beauty. Chicago critics discovered her. She tried other mediums, and has been called the best wood-cut artist in America. But she came to New York and found it completely unresponsive to her skill. Widowed now, and elderly, she lives alone in a tiny room in Brooklyn, and hopes the hotel exhibition will sell enough of her woodcuts and painting to allow her to return to Chicago.
The guiding spirit of this show, and of many another, held hear-about in recent months is Robert Ulrich Godsoe. He was a literary prodigy at 13, a disciple of Joyce at 20. Now, at 29, he is an art critic and author and wears a Dino-Grandi beard to make himself look older.
Olean Times-Herald, New York
Saturday, April 29, 1933, page 12
The Anniston Star, Anniston, Alabama
Saturday, April 29, 1933, page 2
PS After Mrs. Ferdinand Huntting Cook's death in 1932, her remarkably-surviving townhouse - No. 249 West End Avenue, New York City - became the Uptown Gallery, run by Robert Ulrich Godsoe for a decade - exhibiting the works of cutting-edge artists like Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko.
PS Dino Grandi (1895-1988) was an Italian Fascist politician, minister of justice, minister of foreign affairs and president of parliament. He was an ally to the most radical and violent groups of fascists, always surrounding himself with members of the Blackshirts.
Robert Hardy Andrews on Helen West Heller
On October 13, 1933 Helen West Heller's father, Washington Miller Barnhart, died in Bothell, WA
Helen West Heller contributed illustrations - mostly woodcuts - for The New York Times from 1932-1951 and New Masses from 1933 to 1948. She created illustrations for a number of other magazines including Golden Magazine and books such as: Etwas Neues (1936), Bronzviler Gerzang (1941) Di Oisgebenkte Sho (1947)
Chapter initials for Etwas Neues 1936
The New Masses
New Masses cover, May 1926 (1st issue)
cover designed by Hugo Gellert
Helen West Heller's art was published between
FEBRUARY 1933 and JANUARY 13, 1948
From 1933 - a year after Helen West Heller arrived in New York City from her farm in Canton, Illinois - until 1948 - the year the New Masses ended publication - Heller was a regular contributor of art work, mostly woodcuts, to the New Masses. She also wrote two letters to the editor and was highlighted in an article on Subway Art and mentioned in a few other articles.
The New Masses (1926-1948) was in direct line of the Masses (1911-1917) and the Liberator (1918-1924). The New Masses launched in May 1926 and was a monthly through September 1933. It was revamped to become a weekly that started on January 2, 1934.
The November 7, 1944 issue of New Masses included the following review of the "Tribute to President Rossevelt" exhibition. Note: Helen West Heller (1872-1955) is the only woman listed as one of "the most important American artists of an older generation" - which included John Sloan (1871-1951), George Biddle * (1885-1973), Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), Leon Kroll (1884-197), Charles Scheeler (1883-1965), Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965), Max Weber (1881-1961), and Boardman Robinson (1876-1952).
* Biddle attended the Groton School;
a classmate of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
New Masses May 1926 (1st issue)
NEW MASSES (1926-1948)
Early editors of the New Masses were Max Eastman and Floyd Dell - holdovers from the period of lyrical radicalism of the 1910 and early 1920s. But as these two drifted away, the New Masses was run by the likes of Mike Gold and Joseph Freeman, who were more strident in their radical political beliefs and argued for stronger revolutionary positions and stronger ties with the USSR.
In 1930, the International Union of Revolutionary Writers met in Kharkov an urged the magazine to become "in every respect the cultural organ of the class-conscious workers and revolutionary intellectuals of the country." The editors happily accepted the challenge and readers saw Mike Gold's campaign for proletarian literature on the late 1920s and early 1930s that helped bridge the gap between art and politics and followed the tradition of the Masses and Liberator.
From the mid-1930s until the end of the decade and during the period of the Popular Front, the weekly magazine enjoyed its peak popularity. The magazine boasted visually exciting graphics and published the cream of the literary left like Theodore Dreiser, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Albert Maltz, but also established authors like Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and Thomas Wolfe.
The magazine sponsored literary organizations like the "John Reed Clubs" in the early 1930s, and the "First American Writers and Artists Congresses" in 1936. It also provoked controversial discussion on art and Marxism.
During the first half of the 1930s, the publication's articles stressed on sectarian and domestic issue, but with the opening of the Popular Front the New Masses began to focus more heavily on the Spanish Civil War, and the growing threat of international fascism.
New Masses continued after the Soviet-Nazi pact, from 1941 to 1947, as a weekly. The journal's political and literary scopes were narrower and its influence greatly diminished. By March 1948, the magazine reappeared as the merged Masses & Mainstream, which ran until 1956.
In 1922 the left-wing journal, The Liberator, was taken over by Robert Minor and the American Communist Party. Many of the people who contributed to the journal such as Michael Gold and John Sloan were unhappy with this development and in May 1926, they started their own journal, the New Masses.
Michael Gold became editor but when he allowed New Masses to become a strong supporter of the Soviet Union, non-communists such as Max Eastman and Floyd Dell ceased to become involved in the journal. Gold produced a visually exciting journal by employing artists such as William Gropper, Art Young, Hugo Gellert and Reginald Marsh. By 1935 sales had reached 25,000.
Most of the well-known left-wing writers and artists produced material for the magazine. According to David Peck: "The New Masses sponsored some of the decade's most important literary organizations (the John Reed Clubs in the early thirties, the first American Writers and Artists Congresses in 1935), provoked some of its most controversial literary discussions (on proletarian literature and Marxist literary criticism), and published some of the best radical literature to come out of the thirties (the reportage of Meridel Le Suer, John L. Spivak, Josephine Herbst, and Agnes Smedley)."
After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the New Masses was a strong supporter of the Popular Front government and tended to concentrate on the growing fascist threat and in order to achieve left-wing unity was far less critical of liberals and other non-communists.
The New Masses ceased publication in March 1948.
New Masses cover, August 1928 by Louis Lozowick
Cornelia Barns *
K. R. Chamberlain
Lydia Gibson *
Henry J. Glintenkamp
Helen West Heller *
Mary Ellen Sigsbee *
Alice Beach Winter *
* = women artists
THE MASSES (1911-1917)
In 1911 The Masses was founded in New York by Piet Vlag. Organized like a co-operative, artists and writers who contributed to the journal shared in its management. Early members of the team included Art Young, Louis Untermeyer and John Sloan.
In 1911 John Sloan became art editor of the radical journal, The Masses. Although they were rarely paid, Sloan persuaded some of leading artists to provide pictures for the magazine. Artists such as Robert Henri, Stuart Davis, George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, Art Young, Boardman Robinson, Robert Minor, K. R. Chamberlain, and Maurice Becker.
John Sloan illustration/cartoon
"National Association of Manufacturers"
The Masses (October, 1913)
In 1911 Stuart Davis began contributing pictures to the radical journal, The Masses. During the 1930s he became art editor of the Artists' Congress magazine, Art Front. He also painted several public murals. . .
In 1912 Alice Beach joined with other writers and artists, such as Max Eastman, John Sloan and Art Young, in New York to establish the The Masses. She was born in Green Ridge, Missouri, in 1877. She studied at St. Louis School of Fine Arts and Arts Students League of New York. She was a supporter of women's suffrage and a socialist. Alice married Charles Winner, a socialist and supporter of women's suffrage, and the political cartoonist of the Pittsburgh Post. Alice Beach Winter died in 1970.
In 1913 the ideas of Robert Henri inspired the International Exhibition of Modern Art (the Armory Show) held at the 69th Regiment Armory, New York City. The New York exhibition (held between 17th February and 15th March) included over 1,300 works, including 430 from Europe - attracted 250,000 visitors. After leaving the New York School of Art Henri taught at the Ferrer Center (1911-18) and the Arts Students League (1915-28).
In 1913 Maurice Becker joined with Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Bellows and Stuart Davis in taking part in the famous 1913 Armory Show. Becker also began drawing cartoons. He was a great admirer of radical artists such as Art Young, Rockwell Kent and Robert Minor who were using their art in an attempt to obtain social reforms. In 1914, John Sloan, the editor of The Masses, began using Becker's work.
In 1916 Rockwell Kent along with John Sloan and Stuart Davis, left The Masses over a dispute concerning the role of illustrations in the radical journal.
In 1917 the USA declared war on the Central Powers. The Masses came under government pressure to change its policy but refused to do and lost its mailing privileges. In July, 1917 the authorities charged that cartoons by Art Young, Boardman Robinson and H. J. Glintenkamp and articles by Max Eastman and Floyd Dell had violated the Espionage Act. Under this act it was an offense to publish material that undermined the war effort. The legal action forced The Masses to cease publication. In April, 1918 the jury failed to agree on the guilt of the defendants and the second trial in January 1919 also ended with a hung jury. The charges were dropped.
In 1918 the same people who produced The Masses, including the editor, Max Eastman, went on the publish a very similar journal, The Liberator (1918-1924). Hugo Gellert was chosen to draw the cover of its first issue in March, 1918.
In 1922 the The Liberator was taken over by Robert Minor and the American Communist Party and In 1924 was renamed The Workers' Monthly. Many of the people who contributed to The Masses and the original Liberator, were unhappy with this development and in 1926, they started their own journal, the New Masses.
Cornelia Barns, the daughter of a theatre impresario, was born in Flushing, New York, in 1888. She attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and her cartoons published in The Masses, The Suffragist, the Women Voter, The Liberator and the Birth Control Review.
Max Eastman, the magazine editor, argued in his book, Love and Revolution (1965): "Cornelia Barns possessed an instinct for the comic in pictorial art that few American artists have ever surpassed. She was a gentle brown-eyed girl with soft hair sleeked down around a comely and quiet face. She had no ambition or aggression in her nature, and came through the open door of the Masses like a child into a playroom, moved only by her liking for what she saw there. When its door closed she disappeared from fame as quietly as she had entered upon it - I don't know why."
Barns was a socialist and her cartoons dealt with issues as women's suffrage, political corruption and birth control. Cornelia married Arthur Selwyn Garbett, a music critic from England.
After the First World War, Cornelia, suffering from tuberculosis, moved to California with her husband and young son. In her later years she designed magazine covers and contributed cartoons to local newspapers.
Cornelia Barns died in 1941.
Helen West Heller illustration, New Masses April 23, 1946
The November 7, 1944 issue of New Masses included a review of the "Tribute to President Rossevelt" exhibition. Helen West Heller is the only woman listed as one of "the most important American artists of an older generation" - which included John Sloan, George Biddle, Thomas Hart Benton, Leon Kroll, Charles Scheeler, Abraham Walkowitz, Max Weber, and Boardman Robinson.
Subway Art (1938)
"New Masses" slideshow
The mid-1930s was an especially productive and creative period for Helen West Heller; she created more than 30 woodcuts, many book, magazine and newspaper illustrations and an unknown number of oil paintings, murals and mosaics.
THE FEDERAL ART PROJECT and W. P. A. (1935-1947)
Helen West Heller was active during the period of the WPA; she created commissioned woodcut prints for the WPA; mosaic murals for several NYC subway stations that have been lost; and at least one major mural.
The Federal Art Project was one of the depression-era work relief programs of the Works Progress Administration (renamed during 1939 as the Work Projects Administration) and was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency. The program was founded in August 1935 to provide employment for artists and to implement visual arts programs in local communities across the country. Helen West Heller, was on the federal payroll from March 1935 to June 1941 and received between $90 and $115 per month. (3) The FAP program ended in 1947 - six years after Miss Heller's last commission.
1934 Public Works Art Project
Helen West Heller's diptych: "Biology - Resolution of Forces" and "Cosmic Rays - Sulphur" was commissioned by the Federal Art Project and the wood blocks remained in their possession. Copies are in the collection of The Met, NYC; The National Gallery, Washington DC; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Heller's diptych, "Cider Press" was also commissioned by the WPA and printed by L. F. White.
left: Biology - Resolution of Forces
13 1/8" x 10 13/16"
right: Cosmic Rays - Sulphur
13 7/8" x 11 1/8"
linocuts (diptych) 1939
commissioned by the WPA
2012, © The Met, NYC
(Gift of the Works Projects Administration, NY, 1943)
Cider Press, 1939
linocut (diptych), image size: 11 1/4" [w] x 5 1/2" [h]
commissioned by the WPA, printed by L.F. White
2012, © collection of Scattergood-Moore
Most of the hospital murals in the 1930s were done under the WPA. They were provided as therapy for the mental distress that accompanies physical illness and sought to emulate the Greek ideal of treating the body and mind simultaneously. Most of the hospital murals were those intended for children. At Bellevue Hospital, Helen West Heller proposed to the WPA/FAP a mural about the life of Johnny Appleseed, for incurable and aging patients, which would remind the patients of the places where they had lived and stimulate them to read about American history. Although this proposal was rejected (which angered the artist) her proposal to paint a mural titled Boys and Girls at Work and at Play, for a ward in the Neponsit Hospital for Children on Long Island, was accepted and executed.
2 possible studies for a mural, circa 1938
At the Loom and Making Sculpture
oil on canvas, isize: 30 1/4" [w] x 40 1/2" [h]
(2012, © private collection)
The mural was lost when the hospital was demolished during World War II. In 2006, eleven panels were discovered that may be studies for the lost mural. . They depict: children working as sculptors, toy-makers, potters, basket weavers, on a loom, haying, and herding sheep There was also a four-panel series of children with dog, feeding birds, catching school bus and in the classroom. They are very colorful and beautifully painted.
STUDIES FOR NEPONSIT HOSPITAL MURALS
If you are interested in purchasing these panels, contact Leonard S. Davenport of Davenport & Shapiro Fine Arts - it would great to keep this incomplete collection together if a all possible, but they are available in pairs and some times individually.
. . . The mural which Miss Heller will paint for the boys' ward. . . will consist of a series of forty-one panels depicting activities in which the handicapped child may participate. The artist has made a point of including two crippled children in the busy, happy groups on the walls. . . Two of the panels will be devoted to the whittling of airplanes since Miss Heller learned that this was the favorite activity of the boys.
WPA Art to Cheer Crippled Children
The New York Times, Nov. 18, 1935
Walking in the Rain to School Bus
panel from Children at Work and Play
Federal Art Project, W.P.A.
1938 newspaper press release
. . the best types of pictures for children's wards fall into two groups: those that divert and amuse the young patients, and those 'designed for special psychological reasons.' In the latter group is the mural 'Children at Work and Play,' executed by Helen West Heller for the Neponsit Beach Hospital on Long Island. This is a hospital for handicapped children, and the twenty-three panels show children weaving, and making baskets, doing wood carving, picking apples, fishing, and helping in the hayfield - all suggesting healthy, normal occupations in which the handicapped child might share. In one panel a youngster is racing along with the help of a crutch.
WPA Art Project
New York Times
May 7, 1939
NOTE: If the review by Catherine MacKenzie in the New York Times is correct, only 23 of the proposed 41 panels were completed; however, if the WPA 1938 press release is correct, 39 panels of the mural "Children at Work and Play" were completed by Helen West Heller.
Subway Art: Mosaics
During the W.P.A. Heller also created mosaic murals for several NYC subway stations that have been lost. A study for one of her mosaic murals appeared in February 22, 1938 issue of New Masses and included a photo essay titled "Subway Art" about the effort by the United American artists and the New York FAP to put art in the subways - illustrations included work by Helen West Heller, Ben Karp, Max Ratskor, Joseph Ringola, and Ruth Cheney.
"A three-dimensional model of a subway station designed and constructed for the exhibition by the New York Federal Art Project showing the placemen of mural and sculpture. The miniature mural is by Helen West Heller."
The Public Use of Arts committee of the United American Artists and the New York Federal Art Project are engaged on a program to beautify the subways of New York City. The Five items on this page are part of an exhibition of fifty experimental works attempting to solve the aesthetic and, especially, the technical problems of art for the underground stations. They are on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
New Masses, February 22, 1938
"The owner of the Green Bookstore on 3rd Avenue recalled her (Helen West Heller) fondly as a 'short, almost tiny energetic' woman who lived nearby and dropped in often. The owner, my father and Helen and Nelson Garlinghouse separately all talked about Helen's political and outspoken bent, using the word communist in the context of the 1950s."
Murder At A Doorway, 1932
wood-engraving, image size: 2" [w] x 3 7/8" [h]
(2012, © collection of Scattergood-Moore)
ART AND SOCIAL ISSUES
From its inception in 1933 as an informal group within the John Reed Club to its quiet demise in 1942, the legendary Artists' Union of New York had a profound effect on the lives of its members. In the fight to obtain and expand government patronage, the union engaged in mass picketing, strikes, and sit-ins, and soon after the creation of the WPA work-relief program in the sprint of 1935, it became the de facto bargaining agent for wages and working arrangements, the large percentage of the national quote on the New York City Project the generous exceptions to the stringent relief requirements, and the hightest WPA hourly wages were substantially a result of union pressure."
Artists on the Barricades:
The Militant Artists Union
Treats with the New Deal"
by Gerald M. Monroe
Artists' Union (1933-1942)
From its inception in 1933 as an informal group within the John Reed Club to its quiet demise in 1942, the legendary Artists' Union of New York had a profound effect on the lives of its members. In the fight to obtain and expand government patronage, the union engaged in mass picketing, strikes, and sit-ins, and soon after the creation of the WPA work-relief program in the sprint of 1935, it became the de facto bargaining agent for wages and working arrangements, the large percentage of the national quote on the New York City Project the generous exceptions to the stringent relief requirements, and the hightrest WPA hourly wages were substantially a result of union pressure. - "Artists on the Barricades: The Militant Artists Union Treats with the New Deal" by Gerald M. Monroe Dark Matter
COMRADES IN ART
During the mid-1930s, at the height of the Depression, many artists joined the Artists' Union. Active members attended political rallies, picketed to create and protect government-supported jobs for artists, made posters and exhibited in group-sponsored exhibitions. Helen West Heller was active in these artists' social and political affairs. She was a member of the Artists Equity Association and a signer of the Call for The American Artists' Congress in 1941.
If the 1930s can teach us one key lesson, it is the need to organize. Nothing changes when people do not engage in the long and difficult work of building a diverse, multi-cultural, working class movement from the ground up. This includes artists. Fortunately, the 1930s provides us with multiple examples of how artists worked collectively to confront the economic crisis of their time."
The International Artists Union
The Equinox Cooperative Press (1932-1937)
The Equinox Cooperative Press, which published 12 books and 4 soft-covered Equinox Quarters from 1932-1937, was the idea of Lynd Ward. In her autobiographical memoir addressed to Fay Gold on October 18, 1955, Heller complained about many things - including about publishing her book of woodblock verse (Migratory Urge), a process she claimed Lynd Ward later took credit for. Regardless of Heller's bitter feelings, she and Ward shared many common interests in terms of printmaking and social concerns - Lynd Ward would be the main speaker at her memorial service on April 13, 1956.
Lynd Ward's 1937 novel-in-woodcuts, published under the title of "Vertigo" was meant to suggest that the illogic of what was happening all around us in the thirties was enough to set the mind spinning through space and the emotions hurtling from great hope to the depths of despair. - Lynd Ward. The book focuses on the Great Depression and follows the story of three interconnected lives: a boy and girl who fall in love and are separated by financial struggle, and an old business owner who lowers wages and is responsible for breaking up strikes that result in deaths. It so happens that the boy in the story gives his blood for money in a move of desperation and the blood goes to the old man, who falls ill in the midst of the strike. It focuses on the extreme contrasts during the depression, which put the boy on an FBI watch-list. (Goodreads)
The Art Front Magazine (1934-1937)
Art Front (1934-1937) . . . provided a fantastic resource and community sounding board for issues surrounding art and politics during the Works Progress Administration (WPA) period. Based in New York City, the magazine was the official organ of the Artists' Union and served as a main organizing tool. Contributors included Fernand Leger, Harold Rosenberg, Louis Bunin, and Stuart Davis, among numerous others.
Art Front's mission was "as wide as art itself." Stated its editor, H.S. Baron, "Many art magazines are being published in America today. Without one exception, however, these periodicals support outworn economic concepts as a basis for the support of art which victimize and destroy art. The urgent need for a publication which speaks for the artist, battles for his economic security and guides him in his artistic efforts is self-evident."
Long Live Art Front
In "Expressionism and Social Change" - an article from Art Front, November 1936, Charmion von Widgand <argued that after seven years of economic 'stagnation' America was now ready for a truly revolutionary, expressionist art, one that could provide 'the destructive action necessary to the new future.' German Expressionist art, she argued, had lost its force after it abandoned social criticism. At present its young American converts embodied the true spirit of expressionism, one that visualizes the 'social struggle of our time as it assumes ever more dramatic and violent form in the United States.' She then listed the U.S practitioners . . .
. . . among them, Helen West Heller and Alice Neel.
On December 15, 1936, the Art Digest printed an account of the December 1st riot that erupted between artist protesting WPA layoffs and police at the New York City FAP offices, leading to the arrest of 219 artists. Includes statements by Audrey F. McMahon (FAP New York office director) and Elmer Englehorn (business administrator of the WPA Art Projects). Artists Philip Evergood and Helen West Heller contributed statements. . . (4)
Art front, 1935 July
The American Artists' Congress (1936-1941)
American Artists Congress card signed by Stuart Davis
AMERICAN CONGRESS ARTISTS
Signers of the Call - 1936 and 1941
In 1936 the 1st American Artists' Congress against War and Fascism was held in New York City at Town Hall and the New School of Social Research from February 14 to 16. Through this Congress more than 400 leading American artists, academicians and modernists, purists and social realists, were brought together on a platform in defense of their common interests. The Congress was also attended by a delegation of 12 from Mexico, including Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
central panel of "American Earth"
2012, © collection of Scattergood-Moore
Although not a member, Helen West Heller attended the Congress where her print "Reforestation" - the central panel of her triptych 'American Soil' - was shown in the group exhibition and illustrated in "America Today: A Book of 100 Prints," published by Equinox Cooperative Press.
American Today; New York: Equinox Cooperative Press, 1936. First Printing. Quarto. 14pp. Plus one hundred black & white plates. Original cream color cloth over boards with black stamped lettering on spine and front panel. Contains many examples of American printmakers including Helen West Heller, Lynd Ward, Wanda Ga'g, Philip Evergood, Paul Cadmus, Miguel Covarrubias, Rockwell Kent, and many others. Each of the prints was chosen for the exhibition by American Artists' Congress
A December 17, 1936 New York Times advertisement for American Today stated: Those who ran New Deal art projects were often artists themselves, but they were artists who thought art should not be limited to an elite. They refused to restrict artistic creativity to those talented enough to paint museum-quality work or perform on a New York concert stage. Most New Deal artist-administrators believed deeply that the projects had a responsability to explore art's many expressions, to reach out to as many Americans as possible, and to put art to practical use.
By June 1940, the American Artists' Congress had stopped functioning as a significant force in the art world. Despite defections, it still existed and Henry Glintenkamp became national chairperson. The following year he called for a meeting to take place on June 6-8, 1941, at the Hotel Commodore in New York City. This meeting was sponsored by the Artist's Congress and by the United American Artists. The signers of the Call for The (2nd) American Artists' Congress, 1941 included Peter Blume, Robert Cronback, Adolph Dehn, Philip Evergood, William Grooper, Helen West Heller, George Schreiber, Charles Sheeler, Raphael Soyer, William Steig, Lynd Ward, and Art Young. On June 22, 1941, two weeks after the congress met, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and Hitler orders "maximum cruelty" against civilians of Russia. Almost at once the congress reversed the resolution condemning the European war as a "brutal shamefulll struggle," and called for American aid to those fighting fascism.
Organize! What the Artists' Union and the American Artists' Congress Can Teach Us Today
Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Economics
Onya LaTour MODERN ART Exhibition
October & November 1940