National & Regional WPA Influence

The Artists of the 306 W. 141st St. Art Center, Harlem, NY
Harlem Hospital Center was the first WPA commission for African-American Artists in the country | Photo: New York Public Library

WPA Posters Commemorative Stamps, 2017 | Various Artists | Offset Lithography, 12” W x 18” H In 2017, this set of stamps was issued by the United States Postal Service to commemorate the “art that inspired a nation” through the posters designed and produced for the Federal Art Project of the WPA Program.

With the “stamp” of approval from the Postmaster General, the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee selected the WPA era as a new subject for commemorative stamps – in a process that considers about 50,000 ideas a year, most of which come from the American public.

The WPA Posters Forever stamps honor how art inspired a nation. Two Norwalk-based post offices, one on Belden Avenue and one in South Norwalk, house WPA-era murals.

“Pursuit of Happiness” Mural Series


Vertis Hayes, 1937 | New York Public Library (also seen sixth from left in above photo)

On a regional level, while manufacturing was prevalent in Norwalk, healthcare was a major source of employment in most metropolitan cities. The images ABOVE represent Vertis Hayes’s seven-panel “Pursuit of Happiness” mural series that spans two walls of the New Nurses Residence at Harlem Hospital Center. Vertis Hayes, an Atlanta transplant living and working in New York, became a master artist on the Harlem Hospital Center murals. At age 25, he had already worked for the WPA as an assistant on the lobby of a high school building that is now part of the Parsons School of Design. He was one of the only members of the hospital team who had experience as a muralist rather than as an easel painter.

The work of his entire set of panels chronologically follows an arc of African-American history, and transports the viewer from Africa to America, from an African village to an American city. In addition, the mural depicts the migration of African-Americans from their agrarian Southern roots to their industrialized Northern homelands.

Luman P. Kelsey: WPA Artist

This vintage photograph of WPA artist Luman P. Kelsey was taken in his North Canton, Connecticut, studio. Luman, a Denver, Colorado, native was a self-taught artist and started a ceramics studio in 1934. For the WPA, he created over 600 pieces of pottery in only two years. As a result, the Farmington Valley resident gained a reputation for being one of the foremost ceramic artists in Connecticut. The ceramic vessels on display in this exhibit are glazed in Ming blue, onyx green, antique crackle purple and other glazes, and are from his studio which thrived during the WPA period.
Luman Kelsey, 1935