Curtis, who came to Phoenix in 1937 to run the Phoenix Federal Art Center (the success of which eventually led to the founding of Phoenix Art Museum), emerged during a brand-new era for artists in the United States. After the stock market crash in 1929, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented sweeping reforms, including the Works Progress Administration (WPA), to bring relief to communities across the country. The WPA and other federal programs included features that specifically targeted artists, who were hired to do Post Office murals, produce documentation for the Farm Security Administration, make prints for graphic design projects, and record objects of ordinary use for the Index of American Design.
Philip CPhilip C. Curtis, Orchard Street, New York City, 1936. Watercolor on paper. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, gift of the Philip C. Curtis Restated Trust U/A/D April 7, 1994.
As a result, a period of artistic abundance ensued. Art became a federally-funded phenomenon present in every state, with a rich regional variation that emerged naturally. Painters and muralists began to receive recognition as laborers and equal participants in the WPA. The building of civic centers lead to the formation of museums, and emerging artists became successful through collaboration with these organizations.The experiences of Philip Curtis and his impact on Phoenix illustrate the ways that, through these programs, the influence of artists and art advocates could affect the life and future of a community.
This exhibition features works by Curtis before, during, and after his time in Phoenix, as well as works by other artists supported by federal programs. The broad scope of the exhibition touches on a web of themes, all interconnected through the art and personal history of Curtis within the era of the late 1930s to the end of World War II.
Philip C. Curtis: The New Deal and American Regionalism is organized by Phoenix Art Museum. This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of annual donors to the Museum.
Philip C. Curtis, My Studio (detail), 1935. Oil on board. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of Terese Greene Sterling.
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