Associated American Artists: Art by Subscription – from the Permanent Collection

Mar 14-May 10, 2015

In 1934 the United States was in the grip of the Great Depression and the morale of the American people was at an all-time low. During this difficult period in American History, New York art dealer and publicist, Reeves Lewenthal, hatched a plan to form Associated American Artists (AAA). The mission of the enterprise was to make art accessible, affordable and attractive to Americans.

Lewenthal amassed a group of talented, well-known artists to initiate his plan, offering a flat artist fee of $200 to create original print stones and plates. From these the company produced limited edition etchings and lithograph prints. At the onset of AAA, these original impressions were available for five dollars each, initially sold in department stores and later through mail order.

Budding collectors sprung up across America and some of these collectors lived in and near Springfield, resulting in this collection of limited series prints.

Associated American Artists founder, Reeves Lewenthal, had access to talented artists and he knew that the market for original art in the 1930’s was small. Since most of the country was rural, many people were not exposed to galleries and could not afford original art. Even quality, color reproductions could be scarce or unavailable. AAA capitalized on the period’s popular middle class perception of art galleries, dealers and collectors as elitist. The company promoted a culture of access and equality in art collecting and positioned itself outside the dominant, traditional gallery system. The strategy worked and gave rise to a new class of art collectors.

Associated American Artists continued from 1934-1981. Within its first twenty years, the enterprise had developed an international reputation. AAA prints and reproductions were everywhere: in homes, on greeting cards, and even clothing. Through the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War, many American’s struggled for basic needs, but the success and prominence of the AAA print program showed that beauty and visual ideas were also fundamental to Americans.

During its more than four decade span, Associated American Artists created an art series with hundreds of prints by dozens of prominent artist members. Collectors and donors who contributed to this special collection include Ms. Susan Wayne and Miss Leslie Wayne Loftus, Mr. Daniel Summers, Mr. & Mrs. Robert Goldberg, Ms. Helen Bosart Morgan, Mrs. Victoria Cooper and others. These generously donated Associated American Artists prints are now an integral part of the Springfield Museum of Art’s permanent collection and we are pleased to present them to you in this exhibition.