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River Front

1934 Saul Berman Born: Russia 1899 Died: Los Angeles, California 1975 oil on canvas 16 x 24 in. (40.7 x 61.1 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor 1964.1.169 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

Saul Berman's detailed, reportorial painting shows workers busily clearing snow from the New York Navy Yard during the challenging winter of 1933–1934. Piles of timbers recall the fleets of sailing and steamships built by these shipyards on the East River in Brooklyn for the United States Navy and for commercial use since the eighteenth century. However, as the empty dry docks along the river in the background show, during the fall and winter of that year New York shipyard workers often had nothing better to do than clear snow.

The old brick building in the foreground displays the Blue Eagle symbol of the National Recovery Administration in its window to indicate that the lumber company adheres to the NRA's codes for prices, wages, and work hours. The negotiation of NRA codes set off strikes in many industries, and the shipbuilding business was no exception. In early 1934, after the strikes were settled, New York shipyards still lacked work and pleaded for federal government projects to keep men employed. A few years later World War II would bring record numbers of workers to the shipyards that languish idle here under gray skies.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label


Architecture Exterior - commercial - warehouse

Cityscape - river

Cityscape - weather - snow

Figure group

Landscape - wharf

Occupation - service - street sweeper

New Deal - Public Works of Art Project - New York City


paint - oil

fabric - canvas