Beyond the Surface: WPA Works of Charles Turzak

The 1930s was defined as a time of unfavorable economic consequences for many Americans, known as the Great Depression. In a successful attempt to relieve the country of the economic decline, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) implemented the funding of unconventional public works in the United States. A division of the administration, the Federal Arts Project (FAP) combined creative ability with the values of the American people, providing several hundreds of Americans with employment specifically in the arts. The murals and works of art created during the WPA emphasized both the history and potential future of hard-working American people.

In lieu of focusing primarily on achieving the American ideal, Charles Turzak’s woodblock prints capture the story of pivotal moments and people in Illinois history. The images represent cultural and religious strife, emotional and physical strength, and community building through visual narratives. Content of the suite is complemented by its aesthetics; the prints depict contrasting black and white mark-making that emphasizes internal and external conflicts of the artist and American culture. This exhibition looks beyond the surface to acknowledge the deeper meaning of the images, asking visitors to also think critically about how the historical content affects us today.

This exhibition continues through March 11, 2012

Curated by Kelsey Picken and Christina Allen
Museum Studies Graduate Students
Western Illinois University

image: Charles M. Turzak, River and Canal Boats, 1934, woodblock print, New Deal Allocation, courtesy General Services Administration (GSA) Washington, D.C., permanent collection - Western Illinois University Art Gallery