Snow Shovellers

Jacob Getlar Smith, Snow Shovellers, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.22
Copied Jacob Getlar Smith, Snow Shovellers, 1934, oil on canvas, 29 7840 18 in. (76.0101.9 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.22

Artwork Details

Snow Shovellers
Not on view
29 7840 18 in. (76.0101.9 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • African American
  • Figure group — male and child
  • Landscape — weather — snow
  • Occupation — service — street sweeper
  • New Deal — Public Works of Art Project — New York City
Object Number

Artwork Description

Many artists went out into the cold to find subjects after the PWAP began in December 1933. Jacob Getlar Smith found men hired by the government’s new work relief program, the Civil Works Administration, to shovel snow from the streets and park paths of New York. Some of the snow shovellers sport crisp fedoras and warm overcoats while others wear battered caps and ragged coats; some have practical boots while others wear shoes more suited to office work. Men used to physical labor stride along vigorously; those accustomed to sitting behind desks walk more slowly, bowed with weariness after a morning spent clearing snow. Black and white, poor and middle class—all had lost their jobs to the Great Depression. Smith showed them gathered into the ranks of the New Deal social programs that offered them all the means to get through the winter. A boy pulling a sled walks alongside the men, a reminder of the families who looked to these men for their support.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

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.