WPA: Style and Nostalgia

Posted by on Jan 13, 2009 in Photos, Wasatch | No Comments

Part of my new role at work is restoring and printing old art and photos. The Library of Congress has a vast and endless supply of high resolution files, free for the taking – and manipulating. Some of my favorite discoveries have been WPA posters, leftovers of an older America.

The purpose behind the posters was at least two-fold.

First, as part of FDR’s New Deal, the poster project was designed to put artists back to work, and second, the posters themselves were part of an ongoing public service to educate, inform, entertain, and even in some cases coerce the American public into healthy living. Topics ranged from warnings about syphilis, to the benefits of breast feeding, to safety at work.

But beyond the, in my opinion, rather bizarre posters were many that were actual and appreciated works of art. Among these are the National Park posters. Of course, I have a soft spot for National Parks, despite the bureaucratic hand wringing that plagues them. They, quite simply, are one of America’s greatest assets.

The look and feel of the posters reflect the zenith of the era of the American Family Vacation. Those tourists that Abbey found both repulsive, and amusing seem to be embodied in the very colors, designs and sentiments of these old posters. Indeed, I cannot help but picture myself in a wood paneled station wagon, driven by a plaid wearing father, cruising through the back roads of Yellowstone, or the Grand Canyon when I look at these relics of American history.

It is certainly possible that the nostalgia I am projecting into these simple posters is unwarranted. Even silly. And most certainly exaggerated. But to me, they represent an era of American innocence, a true cultural utopia (in a sense) that existed between WWII and Vietnam.

It seems to me that after Vietnam, the idealism of the vacation, and the representation of that idealism was lost in the angry era of protests and entitlement. But then, I may be projecting my own political world view on historical events. But then, don’t we all?

What am I getting at?

In the spirit of emulation I have tried (successfully?) to create my own WPA poster. And in an effort to celebrate our National Parks, I decided to highlight one of my favorite local parks. That is, Wasatch Mountain State Park.

Wasatch Mountain State Park is Utah’s oldest State Park. Founded in 1959 it is home to some of the most beloved -for me- backcountry in the state. And so, with a thick sense of nostalgia, and perhaps an over estimation of the idealism the WPA posters represented, I created the following:

Exit Question: What is your favorite National Park?


  1. Andrew Brautigam
    January 13, 2009

    Grand Teton NP – Absolutely incredible.

  2. cjeder
    January 13, 2009

    Mmm, I see your problem. There aren’t any WPA posters celebrating Utah’s state parks because – as you point out – Utah didn’t have any state parks until 1959. Incidently the whole populist Art Deco thing was on the way out by then so you may want to change your typeface. Alternatively you could simply celebrate Utah’s wonders as of the 1930s, like here for example.

  3. Meredith
    January 14, 2009

    Grand Canyon.


  4. Joel White
    January 14, 2009

    Great post, but now I have the desire to buy a WPA poster to have framed for all the Natl Parks that I’ve backpacked through. That will get expensive in a hurry.

    But to answer the question…

    Denali is my favorite, Grand Teton a close second.

  5. Marla
    January 14, 2009

    Great Smoky Mountains. It’s basically my backyard.

  6. Greg
    January 14, 2009

    Glacier National Park

  7. MOCougFan
    January 14, 2009

    Awesome Pic. Very cool.

    My favorite is Yellowstone. I know it is a huge tourist trap. But I still love it. Tetons are a close second. Followed by Arches. Arches is unique because I love the great openness.

  8. Steve Skinner
    January 15, 2009

    Canyonlands and Yellowstone

  9. Tour Divide
    January 16, 2009

    the WPA had many great works. if you want to get away from the NP hand-wringing but still feel nostalgic `bout camping of yore, the way it was, get your hands on their old state guidebooks it might help you refind now-lost hidden corners.

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