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BOOK REVIEWS At W ork: T h e A rt of C aliforn ia Labor. Edited by Mark Dean Johnson. San Francisco: California Historical Society Press, 2003. 154 pages, $35.00. Reviewed by M. Elizabeth Boone Humboldt State University At Work: The Art of California Labor, the ambitious production of Mark Dean Johnson, brings together students and faculty at San Francisco State University with staff members at the California Historical Society, the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, and Berkeley’s Heyday Books to collaboratively explore the relationship between labor history and the arts. Presented as concurrent exhibitions that opened in September 2003 at the California Historical Society and the Fine Arts Gallery at San Francisco State University, At Work includes an impressive selection of visual arts—paintings, prints, murals, and photo­ graphs—as well as examples from literature, music, and theater. The exhibition is currently traveling to museums and galleries throughout California, and the accompanying catalogue provides an interdisciplinary look at the intersections between labor and art during the past hundred years. A selection of works from the book is reproduced in this issue of Western American Literature. The premise of At Work reveals a frankly modernist idealism. In the fore­ word, historian Gary Brechin holds artists responsible for unveiling the systems that keep us from acknowledging our common humanity. In “An Illustrated Introduction,” Mark Johnson furthers this thesis by explaining how “the art­ ists in this volume evidence a humanistic interest in everyday experience and a determination to create art in accessible forms” (xvii). The exhibition and accompanying publication intend to provide “an opportunity to meditate on the subject of art and labor, and a chance to consider an underrecognized and underappreciated body of work” (xx). José Clemente Orozco. THE EPIC OF AMERICAN CIVILIZATION: MODERN INDUSTRIAL MAN. (Panel 23, central panel 2 of 3). 1932-1934Fresco . Commissioned by the Trustees of Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. B o o k r e v ie w s 4 7 7 Five chapters, arranged both chronologically and thematically, comprise the body of the text. The first, titled “Romantic Foundations” and written byJoshua Paddison, cov­ ers the early history of union activity in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and California’s Central Valley. Paddison reminds readers of three acts of vio­ lence that shook labor relations dur­ ing the early twentieth century: the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by John McNamara, secretary-treasurer of the Structural Iron Workers; the 1913 Wheatland riot, during which two migrant agricultural workers and two Yuba County law officers were killed; and the 1916 explosion at a Preparedness Parade in San Francisco, attributed to trade unionists Tom Mooney and Warren Billings. Paddison concludes that the brutal history of labor relations in California is belied by the romantic depictions of muscled laborers found in art of the Progressive Period. The discussion of Douglas Tdden’s Mechanics Memorial, from 1901, locates the heroic mode at the begin­ ning of the century although most of the visual examples for this chapter, such as Japanese American printmaker Mine Okubo’s Men Working (The Pipe Layers), come from later in the century. Chapter Two, “The Great California Labor Art Movement,” also written by Paddison, charts increasing support for unions and labor during the Great Depression and World War II. Here the images are more closely aligned to the text; photographer Dorothea Lange records the stoop labor of Filipino field hands in the California lettuce field and Emmanuel Joseph documents the entry of African American women into the workforce. In this chapter, claims the author, the art of the period shifts from Romanticism to social realism. Mark Johnson is the author of “California’s Collective Art Culture,” a chapter that covers the same two decades as the second and examines the emergence of collective artist groups during the 1930s and ’40s. Johnson pays particular attention to the San Francisco Artists and Writers Union, whose members were involved in the collaborative mural project at Coit Tower begun in 1933, and to the California Labor School, which offered workers an opportunity to study trades appropriate to the expanding economy of World War II, as well as classes in politics and art. The school...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 476-478
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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