The Great Depression was in full swing when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the creation of the Works Progress Administration in 1935. Renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939, the WPA provided millions of jobs to help the unemployed. Mostly they required unskilled labor and involved public works projects such as building roads and bridges. But many artists were recruited for the visual arts arm of the WPA, the Federal Art Project.
More than 2 00,000 works were produced by the FAP, including paintings and murals such as the one in the Squirrel Hill post office. But many of the artworks were posters touting everything from clean teeth to water rationing and job safety. Some of the best encouraged people to see America, both the individual states and the national parks. The posters languished in the Library of Congress until Doug Levere of Buffalo, N.Y., came across them. Many of the silk-screened posters were dirty, damaged or not of high quality, but they struck a chord with Mr. Levere. Today his company, printcollection.com, reproduces them in a range of sizes (from 8 by 10 inches, $16.99, up to 36 by 46 inches, $229.99) on heavy archival paper in glorious color.
"They're actually images I love so much it became the whole idea behind doing the site," Mr. Levere explains. "Those are original silk-screen posters, so we had to do a lot of retouching, a lot of work to clean them up."
Mr. Levere is a photographer, his mother was a fashion illustrator and his father was a printer, but he credits his appreciation of the WPA posters to his grandfather, "a one-man art studio who did hand-drawn works similar to these." His favorite posters include Carlsbad Caverns, Montana and the Grand Canyon.
"I've hired a designer to create contemporary posters in the spirit of the WPA," he said. "They will very much have a similar feeling, but we're going to do parks that don't have posters or that didn't survive, like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. We're sharing these old pieces and mixing them with contemporary designs to bring interest on both sides."
Go to www.printcollection.com to view the entire collection or to purchase some.