jacob lawrence

Celebrating honest pay for honest work

Art for Labor Day: Working art, for and about working people

Jacob Lawrence, “Carpenters,” 1977, lithograph, 21.75 x 26 inches, Maribeth Collins Art Acquisition Fund, Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Salem

MONDAY IS LABOR DAY (AND, IN CANADA, LABOUR DAY), a day first celebrated in the United States in 1882 and first declared a federal holiday in 1894. It honors not only the work that people do but also the labor movement that grew slowly and gained strength through much of the 20th century, guaranteeing such advances as child labor laws, a forty-hour work week, and occupational safety laws, before losing much of its bargaining power in the past forty-odd years, and increasingly so in the gig economy. Yet labor remains a force, and Labor Day stands for much more than just a three-day weekend (the “weekend” being another triumph of the labor movement).

Artists are of course laborers, too – highly skilled laborers – and often enough labor has been the focus of their work. For the past two years in early September we’ve gathered a few images of art about labor from Pacific Northwest collections or public spaces.

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