The New Deal
"Weighing Cotton" was one of 37 works commissioned by the Depression Era arts program in Georgia.
The Section of Painting and Sculpture was established during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency under the US Dept. of Treasury to commission works of art for federal buildings throughout the nation. The goal of this New Deal program was to make art more accessible to the American people by putting paintings and sculpture in public buildings such as post offices and courthouses.
Unlike other Depression-Era federal art projects, whcih gave work to artists on the basis of financial need and employed them directly. Section artists competed for commissions and executed artworks in the role of government contractors. The artists recieved payment for their work in three stages. The first third of their fee came when the Section approved the color sketch the artist submitted for competition. THe next third of the fee was paid to them after a full scale cartoon of the artwork was approved by the Section. They received the balance of their fee after theri works were installed.
In 1938, the Section's name was changed to the Section of Fine Arts and made a permanent part of the Treasury Department by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr.
Section artists continued to produce works for installation in public buildings until 1943 when, in the midst of World War ll, funding for the program was cut off in response to public sentiment against federal money being spent on projects not directly related to the war effort.
Almost 1400 works of art were commissioned during the nine years the Section existed. About 1, 100 of those works were meant for local post offices. Federal buildings in Georgia received 37 of these artworks. Of that total, 31 were paintings and murals. The other six artworks that make up the balance of the Georgia commissions were wall reliefs and sculptures. The work executed by Marion Sanford in Winder is one of those six.
Over the years, some of the Section murals and sculptures throughout the country have been either destroyed or lost. A rekindled interest in the federal art projects of the 1930's has resulted in a movement for preservation of the remaining Section artworks as a valuable part of the nation's cultural heritage.
Sanford received her commision from the Section of Fine Arts to do a wall relief for the public lobby of the Post Office in Winder, Georgia as a result of an Honorable Mention in a Section competition. Modeled in plaster , the relief depicts two field hands holding a pole from wich scales ar suspended, while an overseer weighs a basketful of cotton. The sculpture reflects what became a recurring theme in Sanford's work, that of common people engaged in honest labor.
She later executed a widely noted series of scupltures called "Women at Work" showing women plowing, gathering apples, churning butter and scrubbing. The sculpture "Butterwoman" from that Series is in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.