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The WPA’s Hudson Square Home

In the summer of 1935, the Federal Writers Project and Federal Art Project were founded as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Like other New Deal Programs, these programs were established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and aimed to alleviate the unemployment and economic uncertainty faced by the United States during the Great Depression. During their existence from 1935 to 1943, these programs employed thousands of artists, writers, photographers and crafts people. Many individuals employed by these programs went on to make significant strides in their professions. By the end of the 1930s, both the NYC Federal Art Project and the NYC Federal Writers Project had their headquarters at 110 King Street at Hudson Street, what’s now known as Hudson Square but had traditionally been part of Greenwich Village.

110 King Street, ca 1939. Source: Museum of the City of New York.

Federal Art Project

The Federal Art Project hired artists to create works of public art and foster art education around the United States. These artists worked to create murals, easel paintings, sculpture, graphic art, posters, photography, theater scenic design, and arts and crafts. By the end of the program in 1943, it had established more than 100 community art centers around the country, and employed around 10,000 artists. Many public artworks created under the Federal Art Project remain visible today, and a great deal of the artists who were employed by the program went on to become revolutionaries in the field. Some notable artists who were employed by the Federal Art Project include Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner.

Artist Margaret Marshall, working on sculpture at the WPA Headquarters at 110 King Street. Source: Smithsonian Archives.

The building at 110 King Street was not only the location of the program’s administrative offices, but also held several studios and workshops in which artists would work. Those who did not work out of 110 King Street would receive their assignments and pick up their checks from the building. Many artists worked on large mural projects around the city and country. A countless number of these murals are still visible today, with one particularly famous example being “Flight”, which is located in LaGuardia Airport. Completed in 1942, it is the largest WPA mural project, and depicts the history of flying. It was completed by artist James Brooks, who was also a Greenwich Village resident.

“Flight” WPA Mural by James Brooks, Source: New York Times

The Federal Art Project also had a photography division, in which photographer Bernice Abbott was able to receive funding to photograph New York City’s changing landscape. Other photographers funded by the project, worked to capture the artists and artwork being created by the WPA.

Image of artist Philip Guston working on Mural at 531 Grand Avenue in Brooklyn. This image was taken by the Federal Art Project photographic division. Source: Smithsonian.

The Federal Art Project also featured a poster division, which was also housed at 110 King Street. Here, posters were created to advertise various Government programs. This included health, safety and cultural programs, travel and tourism, educational programs and other community activities.

WPA Poster. Source: Library of Congress.

Federal Writers’ Project

The Federal Writers’ Project helped to employ thousands of writers during the Great Depression, with an estimated 10,000 writers having been employed during the program’s duration. The project created hundreds of publications including state and city guides, local histories, ethnographies and children’s books. The most well known of these publications was the American Guide Series, which provided detailed histories of the 48 States, and descriptions of every major city and town.

Skiing in the East: The Best Trails and How to Get There. Guidebook created by Federal Writers’ Project, featuring address WPA Federal Writers Project Address, 110 King Street. Source: Library of Congress.

Other notable works created by the Federal Writers’ Project include the American Life Histories, a series of oral histories from individuals which detail their lives in America. These histories cover a myriad of topics including factory work, immigrant experiences, and westward expansion. From 1936 to 1938, the Federal Writers’ Project also created a collection of slave narratives which feature the stories of more than 2,300 formerly enslaved people. In a similar vein to the Federal Arts Project, the writers’ project employed a myriad of influential wordsmiths, including Zora Neale Hurston, Nelson Algren and Richard Wright.

In 1943, following the United State’s entry into World War II, The Federal Writers’ Project and Federal Art Project ceased operations along with the rest of the WPA’s programs. During their tenure, the programs made immense contributions to the historical and creative legacy of the United States, and allowed for thousands of artists to make a living in their crafts, helping to foster a generation of creative painters, artists and crafts people.

One response to “The WPA’s Hudson Square Home

  1. This is a wonderful piece and a welcome reminder of the good that government can do when in the hands of human beings. One (very) minor quibble: I wonder if it would be helpful to note that “Flight” – which I agree is an amazing work – is not in the main LaGuardia terminal but is rather in the separate Marine Air Terminal, which preceded the rest of the airport and is itself an incredible example of Art Deco building architecture.

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