Joseph Stella

Labor Day: The Art of Work

From Oregon artists and museums, a look at the world of work and the varieties of labor

Today is Labor Day, the day we celebrate the American labor movement and its drive to guarantee living wages and safe, decent working conditions for all workers. It’s been an official federal holiday since 1894, through boom times and hard times, strikes and strike-busting, and massive shifts in technology and public/private economic strategies that have weakened the labor movement that inspired the holiday. A historic transfer of wealth away from the working and middle classes and into the bank accounts of the superrich threatens much of what the labor movement has accomplished in the past century and more. Nevertheless, the movement persists.

Art is skilled labor, and quite naturally, artists often depict work and workers in their art. Here’s a selection of Oregon pieces that celebrate labor in its many forms. The second and sixth images are from the exhibition Strength and Dignity: Images of the Worker from the Permanent Collection, at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem through October 21.

IN THE FACTORIES, where the labor movement took root: Joseph Stella, Factories at Night, ca. 1936/1943, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches, allocated by the U.S. government, commissioned through New Deal art projects, Portland Art Museum.

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