Employment of Negroes in Agriculture

Media - 1964.1.183 - SAAM-1964.1.183_1 - 67394
Copied Earle Richardson, Employment of Negroes in Agriculture, 1934, oil on canvas, 4832 18 in. (121.881.6 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.183
Free to use

Artwork Details

Employment of Negroes in Agriculture
4832 18 in. (121.881.6 cm.)
lower left in oil: Richardson/34
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Figure group
  • Occupation — farm — harvesting
  • Landscape — farm
  • African American
  • Landscape — plant — cotton
  • New Deal — Public Works of Art Project — New York State
Object Number

Artwork Description

Earle Richardson chose to depict fellow African Americans working barefoot in a southern cotton field. These workers are not bent over to pick cotton; the monumental figures stand with a quiet pride that transcends their identity as manual laborers. Their forms take up the foreground, confronting the viewers as equals.

The Public Works of Art Project, a pilot program that provided support for art during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term in office, welcomed Richardson and other African American artists, who they hoped would paint "Negro themes," yet only about ten such artists were among the thousands employed for the PWAP. Richardson, a native New Yorker, set his painting in the South to make a statement about his race. Richardson and fellow artist Malvin Gray Johnson planned to say more about the history and promise of black people in a mural series called Negro Achievement, intended to be installed in the New York Public Library's 135th Street Branch (now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), but neither young man lived long enough to complete the project.

Related Books

1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.