Somewhere in America

Robert Brackman, Somewhere in America, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.75
Copied Robert Brackman, Somewhere in America, 1934, oil on canvas, 30 1825 18 in. (76.563.9 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.75

Artwork Details

Somewhere in America
30 1825 18 in. (76.563.9 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • African American
  • Portrait female — unidentified — child
  • Figure female — child — waist length
  • New Deal — Public Works of Art Project — New York City
  • Object — fruit — banana
  • Object — fruit — apple
  • Object — toy — animal
Object Number

Artwork Description

America looks out at the world from the eyes of a child in this painting Robert Brackman made for the Public Works of Art Project. The artist's accustomed portrait subjects were rich white people or nude models who took careful poses in the artist's studio. This African American child afforded the artist, an immigrant from Russia, a very different view of the American scene. Brackman suggested the child's modest American home by placing her in a ladder-back chair at a table with a red plaid cloth. But the domestic interior is far less compelling than the bold child, who fixes the artist with her unflinching gaze. Her stuffed toy lies forgotten in her lap while she scrutinizes Brackman at his easel. She wiggles restlessly, not caring that her dress has hiked up to reveal the tops of her stockings. The ambitious young immigrant artist identified this little girl with far more than her home in New York. He allied her independent spirit with the future of the whole country, titling his portrait of her Somewhere in America.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Luce Center Label

In Robert Brackman's painting the red-checkered cloth and fruit plate reflect popular ideas of home and heartland in the 1930s, but the girl's wary expression makes her seem old beyond her years. During the Great Depression, scenes like this were meant to reflect the nation's strong spirit and to remind Americans of their common bonds rather than their differences. This attitude drove New Deal art projects, which aimed to appeal to broad audiences and affirm shared values. But Brackman's title suggests that he wanted his viewers to think about a class of Americans who were largely excluded from the optimistic imagery that prevailed.

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.