Tuesday, September 17, 2013


How did artists survive in the Great Depression-era? Such iconic artists as Jackson Pollock for one were supported by The Federal Art Project (FAP) the visual arts arm of the Great Depression-era New Deal, Works Progress Administration (WPA),  the Federal One program in the United States. Reputed to have created more than 200,000 separate works FAP artists created a wealth of posters, murals and paintings. Some works like the murals at the High School of Fashion Industries stand among the most-significant pieces of public art in the country. PICTURED ABOVE THE MURAL "VICTORY OF LIGHT OVER DARKNESS."

THE HIGH SCHOOL’S LEGACY A hidden treasure interested individuals can view the murals by appointment only. The school, founded in 1921, was originally known as the Needles and Trade School which served a wide sweep of immigrant children who would later work in New York City’s thriving garment industry. When the building was completed in 1941 it would be known as the Central High School of Needle Trades and today it is called The High School of Fashion Industries. The school is located at 225 West 24th Street, where it still serves to educate and produce creative talent for the fashion and related industries. The school's motto, "We Design the Future."

THE FAMOUS MURALS The FAP’s primary goals were to employ out of work artists and to provide art for non-federal buildings, schools, hospitals, libraries, etc. The murals that sweep around the school’s auditorium were painted between 1939 and 1940 by Ernest Fiene and have historical value of the depression era works of art that glorify an industry and have landmark status. They portray in dramatic and moving fashion the long generation of hope and despair, and the high standard of social and industrial accomplishment in the needle trades.

VICTORY OF LIGHT OVER DARKNESS The first breathtaking panel (PICTURED ABOVE) symbolizes disorganized society being channeled by enlightenment with a background that shows old Castle Garden, and immigrants entering from there into New York City after fleeing the racial and oppressions of Europe. The central background shows the old New York skyline where now the Custom House stands, and in the farther distance appears a rosy light of a future skyline. In the foreground from right to left are seen sweat shops, home work and child labor conditions. Sinisterly hovering over this group is a great green figure symbolizing ‘Greed.’ A large figure to the left, representing enlightenment points with his right hand to a group representing the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, a terrible event which seemed the culmination and summing up of all the injustices and incredibly poor conditions in which workers at that time suffered.

THE FIVE NEEDLE TRADES In the second panel (on the opposite wall) the five needled trades are shown working harmoniously together and a at lower center portrays personalities instrumental in raising the standards of the industry. They represented government, education, management and unions. The figures too many to record here, include President Roosevelt, Mayor LaGuardia, David Dubinsky, president ILGWU, Senator Robert M. Wagner; Max Meyer, chairman, Needlecraft Educational Commission, among many others. The insert at the right of the panel shows workers at play, the scene on the stage “Sunday in the Park” from the ILGWU revue, “Pins and Needles.” The end sections illustrate present and future accomplishment and stretch across the entire panel are words taken from “The Song of the Broad Axe,” by Walt Whitman.

'WE DESIGN THE FUTURE' A fitting tribute to its needle trades history THE HIGH SCHOOL OF FASHION INDUSTRIES continues its commitment to inspire and educate the future leaders in fashion and related industries in New York City.
To view the murals, by appointment, email: graschi@schools.nyc-gov.  Phone: 212.255.1236.

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About Me

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Polly Guerin is an author/poet with four textbooks and 2 video productions as credentials as well as 4 books ready to be published. All my blogs are intended to become the basis for books to be published. PollyTalk From New York (c) is a current events blog about happenings in New York City. I have been PollyTalk columnist on the Internet, Big Apple News Network. AmazingArtDecoDivas blog features amazing women of notable character. I am on the board of the Art Deco Society of New York. The Fashion Historian blog gives pertinent insight into Polly's consummate knowledge about fashion history. Former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Awaken Your Sleeping Beauty blog gives you pertinent information about holistic remedies for health, beauty, mind, body and spirit. I am on the board of the Edgar Cayce New York Center. I sing with the St. George's Choral Society and also serve on their Board. My little dog Colby is a rescue dog and I support animal charities. I hope you enjoy my blogs, please keep in touch.