Exhibit shines light on dark era in American history

In an era of history that began on a dark Tuesday, a few American artists were able to use a New Deal to shine light on their canvasses.

The UK Art Museum is showing the exhibit “Breaking Tradition, Forging Ahead: WPA Prints from the Collection.” The student-organized exhibit is showing works from various artists that were able to use the Works Progress Administration, a program that started during the Great Depression, to break the mold and to help change the view of American art.

Some of the artists included in the collection are Ann Rice O’Hanlon, who has a mural in the foyer of Memorial Hall, and Sargent Johnson.

Most of the artists featured in the collection are not mainstream names, said Janie Welker, curator of exhibitions for the UK Art Museum. But this adds to the appeal of the works because these artists were able to exhort freedom in the WPA program.

“It is interesting that a lot of the WPA artists are not that well-known today,” Welker said. “They had a lot of freedom, and it’s surprising that they had this kind of freedom in a government program.”

The artists were able to not use the most common approach at the time to create art, said BeBe Lovejoy, the registrar for the UK Art Museum.

“The most common approach was American realism and American regionalism,” Lovejoy said. “These prints show some abstractions, some surrealism and a little bit of cubism.”

The exhibition began as a project for the museum studies class, AH-501, and took three semesters to complete with three different classes working toward finishing the project, Lovejoy said.

“It was a hands-on installation and development of an exhibition,” Lovejoy said. “Sometimes you do projects, but it’s just in theory. This one is actually on the wall.”

The free exhibit will be shown through Sept. 12 at the UK Art Museum, which is located inside the Singletary Center for the Arts.