In the early 1990s Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s widow, Sara Mazo Kuniyoshi, donated 19 paintings, created by children during the late 1930s in WPA-sponsored Community Art Centers in New York City, to the Children’s Museum of the Arts. Yasuo Kuniyoshi was an American painter, printmaker, and photographer who worked as a teacher at the New School for Social Research and The Art Student’s League during the Great Depression.
While our research has not been able to confirm that Kuniyoshi himself taught the students whose artwork makes up this collection, like many artists during this time period he collected children’s art as a source of inspiration for his own work. The collection was featured alongside The Young Artists Residency Program collection in CMA’s 2011 exhibition Art Within Reach: From the WPA to the Present. For more information on the collection visit the exhibition’s website.
In the spring of 2010 CMA began a residency program for young artists ages 9-14 to explore the medium of painting. Modeled after classes held at Community Art Centers during the WPA/FAP, two professional artists, Jamie Kelty and Gabriela Salazar, led 21 students in 3-hour sessions for 6 weeks. The classes were held free of charge and brought children from all five boroughs and New Jersey together to create.
In addition to instruction in art making, the students participated in discussions about the Great Depression, the WPA/FAP, and art education. After viewing works from the Kuniyoshi Collection, students were asked to create paintings inspired by the time and place in which they live. The goals of the Young Artists Residency Program were to enable children to explore and interpret their world through their paintings, and to spark a dialogue about growing up in New York City during the Great Depression compared to growing up in the city today.
Leon Bibel (1913-1995) was born in Poland and immigrated to the United States as a child. His lifelong dream was to be an artist, an ambition he pursued as a student at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. After assisting Bernard Zakhelm on several murals, Bibel moved to New York in 1936 to join the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project.
Leon was assigned to the teaching division of the WPA/FAP, where he began teaching printmaking to young students at P.S. 94 and Bronx House, a community art center. The centers were designed to offer free arts education to people of all ages, and in concept and function, this open door policy promoted the arts as a valuable element of society, and an activity to which every individual should have access.
The artworks in this collection offer a glimpse into the 1930s from the perspective of a child. The children greatly benefitted by being guided through the artistic process to a fuller connection to their environment. The Leon Bibel Collection was accessioned into CMA’s Permanent Collection with the help of Phyllis Wrynn and Mitch Freidlin, on behalf of the Leon Bibel Estate. Special thanks to Elaine Bibel Cater and Daniel Bibel.
In January 1990, the museum sent letters to hundreds of countries asking children to send artwork to the museum for the exhibition "A Child’s World." The response was astounding. The museum received paintings, drawings, and collages from all over the world, including countries such as China, Pakistan, Argentina, Norway, Australia, Indonesia, Senegal and Russia. These donations were the founding artworks of CMA’s Permanent Collection and also represent the first international collection children’s art ever assembled.
Immediately following September 11, 2001, CMA worked with art therapists to create special programming for museum’s community. Much of the art from these workshops was collected and added to other donated work to form the collection.
The Henry Schaefer-Simmern Collection is a set of 155 paintings and drawings created between the 1930s and 70s by children ages 3-15 in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and the United States. The artwork was originally collected by art educator Henry Schaefer-Simmern in order to illustrate his theories on art education for children in his book "The Unfolding of Artistic Activity" (1948). The collection was donated to CMA in the spring of 2011.
Artist Joseph Solman collected artwork during the 1930’s and 40’s from his own students, as well as the students of artists such as Ben Zion and Mark Rothko. This collection, comprising 45 pieces of artwork, provides a view into how artists and teachers influence one another. Joseph Solman’s motivation in collecting children’s artwork was to one day give it to a place like CMA. He felt that children’s work was fresh and honest.
The Sona Kludjian Collection is a set of 61 graphite drawings, collages, and watercolor paintings created in the 1960s by 8th graders at Harlem’s Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts under the tutelage of art teacher Sona Kludjian. The collection was donated to CMA in the Spring of 2011.