James Cuffe


James Cuffe Black Artists and Federal Muralism in New Deal Chicago: An examination of the Politics and Ideologies of African-American Muralists under the New Deal: The Illinois Federal Art Project as Case Study. This thesis provides an examination of the relationship between federal muralism and African-American art under the Illinois Federal Art Project. The exploration of the murals that were undertaken by two of Chicago’s best-known African American painters of their day, Archibald J. Motley Jr. and Charles W. White provide a useful basis for analysis. The murals also provide new insights which formulate a worthwhile contribution to current historiography. The state funded arts projects afforded artists including Motley and White the opportunity to paint freely, and both represented African-Americans as a core part of their work, therefore, this study will provide an interesting basis for comparison as they had the freedom to represent African-Americans as they wished. Using a social history of art methodology, this study examines the class relationships within the Illinois Federal Art Project and offer original insights into federal muralism during the New Deal era. This study represents the first examination of Motley’s murals that were undertaken in 1935 at Nichols Elementary School, similarly, this thesis will examine other contributions by Motley on the Federal Art Project, arguing that Motley’s ideological stance was more conservative than previous art historians have indicated. This thesis will also examine the murals undertaken by Charles W. White during his time on the Federal Art Project. This examination also challenges existing assumptions in terms of the content of the murals that have been written about in current historiography on White. Finally, a comparative analysis will demonstrate their similarities and differences in terms of ideology, style and their perceptions of race and class.

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