A Matter of Public Inspiration

Philadelphia Zoo WPA PosterThe internet is often the keeper of accidental treasure and inspiration. While searching for some photography online through the Library of Congress two years ago, I stumbled upon an exceptional gem of a resource. Buried deep amongst pages of digital layout lies a remarkable little darling of pure, hand-painted, graphic design. Originally untouched by Adobe Photoshop or a digital printer, the product of authentic artistic talent.

The Library of Congress online catalog of WPA posters is a sure source of visual stimulation. Created by President Hoover in an attempt to provide relief to millions of unemployed Americans during the Great Depression, the administration provided thousands of projects for out of work artists.

Once upon a time Designers used pencils and paint to hand draw precise letter-forms and produce effects that are similar to that of Photoshop filters.The accuracy and style was phenomenal. No Pen tool was available to get the curves just right and no “cut and paste” to recycle pre-produced graphics. Each letter drawn with exhaustive care rather than being instantaneously spit out by a blinking cursor. While one would think this could only produce work that pales in comparison of what the mighty Macintosh helps assemble today, the contrary is actually the case. The Artists of the WPA helped to enlighten generations of designers to come.

What fascinated me when looking through these posters was the direct connection between the stylization of the 1930s and what you see now in advertising. Whether we consciously realize it or not, the work of the WPA left a lasting impression in the world of visual communications.

So when the daily grind of being in the creative industry is getting you down take a moment and check out the Library of Congress Collection. Take in the ornate simplicity of a poster created for the Philadelphia Zoo, or contemplate the rich curvature of Charles Vershuuren persuading you to attend the Water Carnival in Central Park. Why not take advantage of this repository for creativity, these works belong to all of us.

[techtags: WPA Posters, Vintage Design, Library of Congress, Inspiration, Poster Art]


  1. Chris

    — April 11, 2007

  2. — April 19, 2007

  3. — September 18, 2007

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