Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn was born in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1898. His family emigrated to America in 1904 and after he completed his schooling, Shahn became a lithographer's apprentice. Shahn continued his studies at night school and eventually attended New York University and the National Academy of Design (1917-21).

In the 1920s Shahn became a Social Realist and his work was often inspired by news reports. Text and lettering formed an integral part of his designs.

Shahn held strong socialist views and his art often referred to cases of social injustice. A good example of this concerns the drawings about the proposed execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. He also played an important role in the campaign against the imprisonment of the trade union leader, Tom Mooney.

Shan's graphic work appeared in the Art Front, Fortune Magazine and Harper's Bazaar. In 1934 he joined the Public Works of Art Project and completed several public murals that dealt with issues such as anti-semitism and poor working conditions.

Ben Shahn, Cotton Picker, Arkansas (1935)
Ben Shahn, Cotton Picker, Arkansas (1935)

Shahn also worked as a photographer and in 1935 he was invited by Roy Stryker to join the the federally sponsored Farm Security Administration. This small group of photographers, including Arthur Rothstein, Carl Mydans, Russell Lee,Walker Evans and Dorothy Lange, were employed to publicize the conditions of the rural poor in America. Over the next few years Lange produced several notable photographs such as Migrant Mother (1936).

Ben Shahn, United States War Poster (1942)
Ben Shahn, United States War Poster (1942)

During the Second World War Shahn produced posters for the Office of War Information and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). His interest in political art continued and his Lucky Dragon series (1960-62) dealt with the story of a Japanese fishing vessel that sailed into an atomic testing area.

Ben Shahn died in 1969.

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