At Work: The Art of California Labor At Work: The Art of California Labor
At Work: The Art of California Labor At Work: The Art of California Labor
Exhibit catalog cover. Image by Diego Rivera,
The Allegory of California
. 1931, Mural, San Francisco.

The El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument presents: At Work - The Art of California Labor.

June 13th - August 14th, 2006
Pico House Gallery, Olvera Street

The story of labor - which comprises passionate struggles and triumphs as well as dehumanizing forces - has figured largely in the art of our time. At Work: The Art of California Labor exhibition opened at the Pico House Gallery at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument on June 13, 2006. It was the first exhibition to explore this important topic through the eyes of artists who witnessed or were inspired by some of the most significant trends and events in the history of the 20th Century.

At Work delivered a powerful examination of California's rich and tumultuous labor history since the turn of the 20th century. From the conditions that led to the rise of organized labor, to the farm workers movement and contemporary issues facing workers, including globalization, the exhibit explored the people, events and movements that have defined and continue to shape the state. The compilation of images offered surprising insights into one of the most fundamental components of our daily lives - work - and shows how our collective identity has evolved over time.

The At Work exhibition featured many of California's most noted artists. It was a combination of original artwork from contemporary artists, such as Yolanda Lopez, Malaquias Montoya, Ester Hernandez, Don Normark, Mark Vallen, Jos Sances and Slobodan Dimitrov, and also included high quality reproductions of historical works by noted artists Diego Rivera, Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti and many others. The broad range of art and artists provided a dialog between political motives and aesthetic aspirations that occurred throughout the 20th century and continue today.

Exhibit Opening Reception:
Saturday, June 17th, 2006. 7 to 10 pm

Pico House Gallery
424 North Main Street, Downtown LA

Well over 500 enthusiastic art lovers attended the opening of the exhibit at the beautiful Pico House Gallery. Original paintings, drawings, fine art prints, posters, photographs, installations, and reproductions of historic works were enjoyed by the multi-ethnic crowd. Live music was provided by the acoustic group, Son Real, who entertained those gathered with traditional Mexican folk music.

Art lovers at the Pico House gallery during the Opening Reception Art lovers at the Pico House gallery during the Opening Reception
Art lovers at the Pico House gallery during the Opening Reception Art lovers at the Pico House gallery during the Opening Reception

GET THE PICTURE?! Art & Social Change
An Artist's Panel Discussion on Art & Politics

Saturday, July 15th, 6 to 9 pm - Pico House Gallery

As part of the exhibition, The Pico House Gallery presented this free July 15th forum on the history of artist's responses to the issues of labor in California. Painter Mark Vallen and photographers, Sheila Pinkel and Slobodan Dimitrov, gave an exciting lecture and Powerpoint presentation that showcased dozens of artworks. A question and answer roundtable with the artists followed their talk.

Free Film Screening: Salt of the Earth
Friday, July 28th, 7:45 pm. - Pico House Gallery

In the courtyard in front of the Pico House, there was an open-air screening of director Herbert J. Berman's classic 1953 drama, Salt of the Earth. Based on an actual strike by Local 890 of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union in New Mexico, Berman's film was banned and blacklisted during the height of the anti-communist McCarthy era witchhunts. The movie used only two professional actors, and it was produced by blacklisted technicians. The film not only defied the rampant anti-communism of the day, it focused on Chicano and Anglo workers uniting to struggle for better working conditions while the U.S. government was actually rounding up Mexican-American immigrants under its "Operation Wetback" program of mass deportations. Definately a timely film for present day Los Angeles.

About the Exhibit: At Work

Originally organized by the San Francisco State University Art Gallery and the California Historical Society, the exhibit included artworks like Claude Clark's oil painting, Pay Dirt, a work that points to important issues of Civil Rights on the job during the 1960s-1970s. Fletcher Martin's Trouble in Frisco (shown at right) depicts the struggles of the Longshoremen's Union in San Francisco during the 1930s, and Henrietta Shore's Artichoke Pickers is representative of the federally funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects.

Trouble in Frisco - Reproduction of oil painting by Fletcher Martin Trouble in Frisco - Reproduction of oil painting by Fletcher Martin
Trouble in Frisco - Reproduction of oil painting by Fletcher Martin Trouble in Frisco - Reproduction of oil painting by Fletcher Martin
Fletcher Martin, Trouble in Frisco
1938, Reproduction of oil painting

Photography creates a sense of immediacy and furthers the understanding of the world around us. This section of the exhibit highlighted California's strong heritage of documentary photography of work, which is represented through the works of Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti, Consuelo Kanaga, and by contemporary photographers Richard Bermack, Francisco Dominguez and others.

Fine art prints are viewed by some artists as fundamentally more democratic, or accessible, than one-of-a-kind works of art because multiple copies are produced. The exhibit explored how artists used prints and graphics to explore labor and included works by Emmy Lou Packard, Louise Gilbert, and members of the California Labor School, Giacomo Patri and Pele deLappe. The Chicano Art Movement sought to forge a new, more positive sense of identity for California's Mexican-American population. Labor issues were central to the cause and inspired artist-activists to launch the art movement. Artists such as Yolanda López and Ester Hernandez produced art that promoted the rights of Chicano workers and citizens, blurring the distinctions between art and politics.

Photograph by Tina Modotti 1926 Photograph by Tina Modotti 1926
Tina Modotti, Campesinos (Workers Parade)
1926, Gelatin silver print, 8x7"

Many Californians are aware of San Francisco's 1934 General Strike, but probably few realize to what degree labor movements shaped the state's political and social climate. Even fewer know of the copious art which both inspired and reflected California's labor struggles throughout the 20th century. "At one time, the strongest and most important artists in California made art about labor," explains Mark D. Johnson, Professor of Art at San Francisco State University. A mid-century backlash, however, including the persecution of labor sympathizers in the McCarthy era, has all but erased from public memory the very "vast and compelling" art surrounding the labor movements, he says.

Collaborating with arts, history and labor organizations, Johnson helped organize the traveling exhibition that went on view at the Pico House Gallery, an exhibit meant to recover that spirited working class history as well as recognize today's artists who deal with labor themes.

Artists on display at the Pico House Gallery include:

Armando Arorizo, David Avalos, Marion Barkus, Javier Bautista, Richard Bermack, Judy Branfman, Armando Cabrera, Barbara Carrasco, Claude Clark, Robbie Conal, Michael Connor, Jose Cortez, Richard Duffy, Ernesto de la Loza, Sergio de la Torre, Pele de Lappe, Slobodon Dimitrov, Francisco Dominguez, El Taller Gráfico, Christina Fernandez, Emilio Flores, Jamey Garza, Louise Gilbert, Daniel Gonzalez, Michael Gurka, Harman Press, Ester Hernandez, Louise Hock, Consuela Kanaga, Dorothea Lange, Andrea Long, Yolanda Lopez, Fletcher Martin, Nicole Miller, Doug Minkler, Tina Modotti, Malaquias Montoya, Julio Morales, Cathy Murphy, Leonard Nadel, Don Normark, Gil Ortiz, Emmy Lou Packard, Giacomo Patri, Peace Press, Sheila Pinkel, Red Pepper Posters, Diego Rivera, Jos Sances, Allan Sekula, Henrietta Shore, Herbert Sigüenza, Elizabeth Sisco, Zolita Sverdove, Sylvaín,
Mark Vallen, Steve Wong, Andrew Zermeño.

A beautiful 176 page catalog book is available that details the history of artists who created works on the theme of labor in California. However, this catalog documents the original San Francisco exhibit - not the current L.A. show.

Woodcut by Emmy Lou Packard 1950 Woodcut by Emmy Lou Packard 1950
Woodcut by Emmy Lou Packard 1950 Woodcut by Emmy Lou Packard 1950
Emmy Lou Packard, Carpenter
1950, woodcut, 16 x12"

Directions & Contact Information

The Pico House Gallery is located at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, 424 North Main Street, LA, California, 90012. It is open daily from 10 am to 3 pm. Olvera Street is bordered by N. Spring, Arcadia and N. Alameda Sts. and Cesar E. Chavez Ave. in downtown Los Angeles. For directions and maps to Olvera Street and the Pico House Gallery, please visit:

Contact: Marianna Gatto - Curator
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument/Historic Italian Hall Museum
125 Paseo de la Plaza, Suite 300. Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 485-8432 (direct) (213) 485-8238 (fax)

El Pueblo de Los Angeles was first settled in 1781 by Mexican families. Today this 44-acre park protects the city's first church, firehouse and theater, the 1818 Avila Adobe - the oldest existing house in the city, and of course, The Pico House Gallery. The Pico House was commissioned in 1870 by Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican California.

The Pico House was the first 3-story building in Los Angeles and once the finest hotel in Southern California. It lies just off of the old plaza, La Placita, the symbolic heart of Los Angeles.

"At Work" exhibit opening at the Pico House
Artwork Previews
Woodcut by Daniel Gonzalez Woodcut by Daniel Gonzalez
Oil painting by Mark Vallen Oil painting by Mark Vallen
Bad Worker - Daniel Gonzalez, Woodcut.
Solidarity - Mark Vallen, Oil painting 2006
Painting by Ernesto de la Loza Painting by Ernesto de la Loza
Painting by Ernesto de la Loza

At Work: The Art of California Labor, was originated by the California Historical Society and the San Francisco State University and curated by Mark Dean Johnson, Director, Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco State University. At El Pueblo Historical Monument, the exhibit is made possible through the generous support of El Pueblo Park Association and is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, The Historic Italian Hall Foundation and the Echo Park Film Center. The L.A. show was curated by Marianna Gatto and Shervin Shahbazi. The exhibition tour is coordinated by the California Exhibition Resources Alliance (CERA) and is funded through the James Irvine Foundation.

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