Harold Lehman Biography
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The New Deal

 
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Detail from Man's Daily Bread

Detail from Man's Daily Bread**
Harold Lehman, 1934

Detail from Renovo Mural

Detail from Renovo Mural
Harold Lehman, 1941-42

In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president was because he had a plan to get the United States out of the Depression. That year, he established the National Recovery Act to deal with the economic woes of the time. The NRA was a nationwide project to put Americans back to work. In 1936, when Lehman was living in New York, he was chosen to work as a mural artist under another relief plan called the Federal Art Program. This program fell under the jurisdiction of the administrator of the Works Progress Administration in New York City, Audrey McMahon. Under the WPA, Lehman began designing Man's Daily Bread, a large (20'x70') mural that was to be placed in the cafeteria of Riker's Island Penitentiary in New York City.

As Lehman recalls, "I came up with the theme, Man's Daily Bread because the mural was in the mess hall of Riker's Island prison where eight to nine hundred prisoners ate three times a day. So, it seemed to me that a theme that had some connection with not only the handling of food, but the idea of earning one's bread by one's own sweat so to speak, would have some good constructive connection with that prison without being an obvious lecture."

Several details from Man's Daily Bread were shown from 1938-40 in various venues including the National Society of Mural Painters and the Whitney Museum. Many reviews and reproductions in newspapers and art publications also appeared at that time. Two large details from this mural were exhibited in the American Art Today building at the 1939-40 World's Fair. One of these - The Driller was later acquired by the Smithsonian National Collection of Fine Arts (now known as the National Museum of American Art) for its permanent collection. Five other details were bought by the Mitchel Wolfson Jr. Collection. They are presently in the permanent collection of The Wolfsonian Foundation in Miami Beach, Florida.

In 1936, another program was set up under the United States Treasury Department called the Section of Fine Arts. Under this program, murals were commissioned to artists based solely upon artistic merit. It had nothing to do with whether the artist needed the work or not. The first project that artists were assigned to were the new post offices that were being built at the time all over the country.

President and Mrs. Roosevelt

President and Mrs. Roosevelt
Inauguration, 1932
Go to New Deal Web Site
Go to Harold
Lehman's statement
on The New Deal.

Mural Detail

Detail from Man's Daily Bread

The Driller*, 1940
Detail from Man's Daily Bread

 

 

Between 1941-42, Lehman was invited to design a post office in Renovo, Pennsylvania. Harold Lehman said, "It happened that Renovo, Pennsylvania was the center of a big locomotive repair operation of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The major thing they did was to repair locomotives, a very vital concern of the government during the war years." Lehman's design for the Renovo post office was related to how production for the war would help our allies win World War II.

One of the tragedies that occurred in American art was that until recently,there was no preservation of the murals and art commissioned during the New Deal. Many works were destroyed, lost sight of, or wantonly vandalized. Lehman's own mural, Man's Daily Bread was destroyed sometime around 1962 without a word to anyone. The warden at Riker's Island Penitentiary ordered it to be pulled down. Lehman bitterly recounts, "Nobody was told, nobody was given an opportunity to salvage it or to do anything about it to save it. The way I found out about it was quite by accident. I merely wanted to see the state of preservation of my painting. In 1975, I made a trip to Riker's Island and found, lo and behold, an empty wall. This is the only way that I found that my painting no longer existed. I had to go out there and discover this."

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Man's Daily Bread

Man's Daily Bread
Riker's Island Penitentiary Mural
1938-40
*The Driller courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
**Detail from Man's Daily Bread courtesy of The Wolfsonian Foundation, Miami Beach, Florida.