WPA Art Links Past to Present: Thinking About Boston

Boston Public Library, by Stanley Scott, 1939. From the Records of the Work Projects Administration.

Teaching units about the Great Depression include the Works Projects (also Progress) Administration (WPA). The records of this government program that put millions of unemployed Americans to work in public works projects are held in the National Archives.

They reveal fascinating stories about local history: the building of the school cafeteria, curb cuts, road improvements…and public art.  In the classroom, the records of local WPA projects become recognizable connections between past and present, the efforts of the past continuing to benefit us today. Like a scavenger hunt, students can go about town finding evidence of the WPA still here after all these years!

Among the records held at the National Archives at Boston in Waltham, MA, are large linocuts created by an artist named Stanley Scott  for the Federal Art Project of the WPA in the 1930s.  Scott’s images depict historic buildings in Boston (with the exception of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC).  Little is known about the artist; however his beautiful, dramatic prints of Boston’s landmarks include Old North Church, Faneuil Hall, and the Boston Public Library.

Eighty years after its creation, a print of the Boston Public Library remains vital and current. Other than the outdated automobiles or clothing, the Library looks just like this today.

Founded in 1848, by an act of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts, the Boston Public Library was the first large free municipal library in the United States.

In addition to its 8.9 million books, the library’s holdings include rare books and manuscripts, maps, musical scores and prints. Among these are several first edition folios by William Shakespeare, original music scores from Mozart, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf;” and the personal library of John Adams. The Library is a landmark and anchor in Boston.  Among the many events that take place in view of the library is the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The prints of Old North Church (National Archives Identifier 6219851), Faneuil Hall (National Archives Identifier 594930), and the Boston Public Library (National Archives Identifier 6219817come from the Records of the Work Projects Administration in the National Archives at Boston.

7 thoughts on “WPA Art Links Past to Present: Thinking About Boston

  1. Thank you for sharing this information! Researchers can also request WPA personnel files from NARA at St. Louis. –Ashley Mattingly, Archivist, NARA at St. Louis

  2. Thank you for the comment. What an awesome find! Were they large oversize prints? That’s what the originals are like. We do not know anything at all about Stanley Scott. Perhaps you do. You can find 9 of the prints in the National Archives Online Catalog here https://catalog.archives.gov

    I have also uploaded them to make greetings cards (and I always include the citation of where they are from!).

      1. I just acquired an original print (8/50) of the State House. It is certainly on paper. I am confused by your statement that they are not on paper… Can you elaborate? What are these worth and any thought about how you would reframe?

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