Forgotten Stories: Northwest Public Art in the 1930s

February 18 – March 27, 2021

Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery and the Maribeth Collins Lobby


virtual exhibition tour 

Virtual Tour: Virtual tour photographed by Kyle Bryant, SpeedsPhoto. Still photography by Dale Peterson. This virtual tour has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

During the economic hard times of the 1930s, U.S. government art projects under the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and other agencies created a wealth of public art and supported art communities across the country. These projects had an enormous impact on American art and artists, but much of that history, particularly in the Northwest, where hundreds of artists were employed and thousands of artworks were created, has been unexplored. Organized by the Tacoma Art Museum, Forgotten Stories: Northwest Public Art of the 1930s offers an extensive overview of the bounty of work created in our region and brings forgotten treasures back to view. 

From December 1933 to June 1943, the federal government sponsored a unique set of projects to support artists and create public artworks. The United States was suffering under a severe economic depression and millions were unemployed. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration created the New Deal—a host of programs designed to provide government jobs, from construction to office work. Through the advocacy of Eleanor Roosevelt and others, jobs for artists, musicians, actors, and writers were included.

The art projects abruptly ended when the U.S. entered World War II and many of the artworks and related records were lost or destroyed. Little was thought to have happened in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington (the government’s Region 16). However, research now shows over 600 artists were employed, more than two thousand objects created, and hundreds of thousands of Northwest residents experienced or created their own original artworks. Forgotten Stories celebrates this important moment for public art in our region.

Financial Support

Forgotten Stories: Northwest Public Art of the 1930s was organized by Tacoma Art Museum and generously supported in part by ArtsFund and Tacoma Arts Commission. The publication is made possible by the Henry Luce Foundation. Both the publication and exhibition have been thoughtfully supported by associate sponsors Matthew and Kimberly Bergman.

Support for the the virtual lecture series and virtual tour has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Sponsorship at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art has been provided by gifts from the BJS Family Trust, the Ric and Suzanne Kane Living Trust, the Lawrence and Sandra Post Family Foundation, the Allan Rappaport Charitable Foundation, the Wyss Foundation, Kathy Belfer Cypres, Bonnie and Ronald Fein, and an anonymous donor, as well as by general operating support grants from the City of Salem's Transient Occupancy Tax funds and the Oregon Arts Commission. Advertising support has been provided by the Oregon ArtsWatch Full Circle Fund. 

Back to Top