Take a hike! This 1930s throwback is a female-led force of nature. July 31 2018


Woman Hiking--WPA recreation project, Dist. No. 2, a 20x200 Vintage Edition
10"x8" ($24) | 14"x11" ($60) | 20"x16" ($240) | 30"x24" ($800)

To heck with getting outta the woods—let’s go in. Our new Vintage Edition isn’t just a particularly unique blast from the past, it’s also an infectiously gung ho take on depicting great-outdoors-going. We plucked Woman Hiking—WPA recreation project, Dist. No. 2 from one of our favorite vintage archives: the arts-related arm of FDR’s Works Progress Administration. Made sometime between 1936 and 1939, this design appeared on one of the WPA’s widely distributed posters as part of the community recreation programs encouraging an array of enriching extracurriculars, from reading to tennis.

Maybe it’s the thought of getting some serious distance from the office to enjoy the warm weather we’ve been having, but if we could take our pick of pastimes right now we’d opt for the outdoors. This edition speaks to us. But this nature’s calling for another reason, namely the bold, offbeat color combination and interesting injection of abstraction. The style isn’t easily identifiable—sort of a deconstructed art-deco-esque look brought to life by some sketchier strokes. And the details are delectable. Take, for instance, the bird that’s landed on the letter H. Plus, there’s a mountain (heh) of other cool things about this print. Let’s take the scenic route, shall we?

Woman Hiking—WPA recreation project, Dist. No. 2 might not be quite what you’d expect of a 1930s-era design. Why? Because it stars a lone female figure hiking up a trail. That seems like a pretty radical image when you couch it in its historical context—the world of outdoor recreation has long been a boys’ club, even more so almost a century ago. Clad in shorts with tousled hair rippling in the breeze behind her, this backpack-toting outdoorsperson is a woman on a mission. Her limbs are bent in action as she makes her way up the hillside with determination and a subtle smile perceptible in the silhouette of her face. She’s an “unlikely” hiker, and we’re glad she’s been given the limelight ...  

For some perspective, this poster was created around 20 years before a woman named Emma Gatewood would buck convention to become the first woman to finish the Appalachian Trail solo. (She'd subsequently become the first person to thru-hike the AT twice ... talk about a trailblazer.) This was around 70 years before Cheryl Strayed’s hugely popular Wild was published. In recounting her own 1000+ mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail nearly a century later, Strayed‘s memoir has helped normalize the idea of women taking long solo hikes. Though all of the WPA posters were a collaborative effort, the artwork for Woman Hiking—WPA recreation project, Dist. No. 2 was, in fact, created by a woman: an artist named Shari Weisberg. You can spot her signature in the bottom left corner of the print. Surely she considered the significance of centering a female figure.

Woman Hiking—WPA recreation project, Dist. No. 2 touches on underrepresentation in the world of outdoor enthusiasts, a deficit that goes beyond women alone. People of Color, differently-abled individuals, and non-binary folks are often left out of the conversation to this day. Looking at this Vintage Edition we’re optimistic for a more inclusive future. There’s movement in the piece itself but also the idea of movement as it’s suggested by the subject’s path of approach toward the peak, her upward trajectory. There’s passion and joy in the bright colors and dynamic shapes.

Keep in mind this and other WPA posters were made during The Great Depression. Posters were an inherently democratic art form, produced relatively economically and dispersed on a public scale. Whether the designs centered on recreation, travel, conservation, health or another subject, the government’s investment in their production meant huge progress in American printing and poster work, but the posters also represented a fixed point of positivity and fortitude for a country in troublesome circumstances. Sound like something we could use right about now? We can see the forest for the trees, and we like the view.

With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200