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Women Artists - 20th Century

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Side Show

20th Century
9 3/4 x 15 in. (24.8 x 38.1 cm)

Elizabeth Olds, American, (1896–1991)

Object Type: PRINTS
Creation Place: North America
Medium and Support: Lithograph
Credit Line: Purchased with The Marjorie and Irwin Nat Pincus Fund for Prints and Drawings.
Accession Number: 13-G-3563
Label for "American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints from the 1930s and 1940s", La Salle University Art Museum, March 12- May 30, 2014:

Born in Minneapolis, MN, Olds studied at the Art Stu­dents League in New York City and was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1926-27. After traveling in Europe for several years, she moved to Nebraska in 1929 and became inter­ested in depicting the suffering of workers and animals. In 1934 she worked for the PWAP in Omaha; then in 1935 she returned to New York City and worked for the WPA/FAP in the silkscreen unit of the Graphic Arts Di­vision. A prominent Social Realist, she was a member of the Artists’ Union and the American Artists’ Congress and actively engaged in the struggles of workers. She did illustrations for the Communist paper New Masses, and in 1936 she wrote an important essay advocating the production of fine art prints for the masses.

Side Show was made during Olds’ tenure with the WPA/ FAP in New York City. The setting is a carnival or fair, with big tents and a Ferris wheel in the background. Side shows featuring an emaciated thin man or “human skeleton” were common at the time; however, Olds’ de­piction should be considered in light of her social con­cerns. The scene takes place near an entrance to the fairgrounds, within a shallow stage-like area lit by spot­lights highlighting a megaphone announcer in the cen­ter. Three portly individuals stand gawking on the left, and a marching band plays on the right. The curvy forms of the rotund audience members and the musical instru­ments contrast with, and accentuate, the gaunt angular forms of the faceless thin man.

Klare Scarborough
Director and Chief Curator, La Salle University Art Museum

Current Location: In Storage


American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints from the 1930s and 1940s, Curated by Klare Scarborough and Carmen Vendelin, La Salle University Art Museum, March 12- May 30, 2014.


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