harry sternberg sitting infront of a self portrait

Artist Profile: Harry Sternberg

Harry Sternberg was born in 1904 to immigrant parents who had immigrated from Russia and Hungary. He was born in New York, and in 1910 moved to Brooklyn. He began Jewish religious Training when they moved to Brooklyn and at the age of nine, he began taking art classes at Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1915.

Sternberg had shown interest in art at an early age, and his parents supported him in his school work. He took up part time classes in 1922 to 1926 at the Art Students League of New York. After all the art study that Harry had done up to this point, he was ready to start his career in etching, printmaking, and painting. He got his first studio apartment in 1926, Greenwich Village.

Harry Sternberg career

His background education in art gave him the skills that he needed to lay down a successful career. He was good at his art, and he worked hard to grow his career. He had his first exhibition in 1931 at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

family industry and agriculture painted by harry sternberg

He went back to the school where he studied in New York as a teacher and also took a keen interest in social issues that affect art. He remained an art professor until 1968. His time as a teacher was very busy and involving. He landed a position in the Graphic Art Division of the Federal Art Project.

He then spent a year studying the working conditions of workers in coal mines and steel mills. He featured this experience in his first ever mural “Chicago: the epoch of a great city” at the Lakeview post office in Chicago. The mural was not funded by the WPA but by the Treasury of Fine Arts.

Harry Sternberg got to meet Diego and his wife Frida in 1934. After the meeting, he began thinking of taking a political stand. He, therefore, became more active regarding political matters. In 1936, he got the Guggenheim fellowship.

His first post office mural was in 1937; he called it “carrying the mail” in Pennsylvania. It had funding from the US department of the treasury of painting and sculpture. Harry then moved to Chicago to study the city. He picked up information on the architecture, history, and industry in Chicago which then he translated into his mural “Chicago: epoch of a great city.”

The mural had details on the early settlers in Chicago, the great fire in the steel mills and the life stock. His work was mostly him trying to capture the struggles of the fight of the workers. The mural’s renovation was in 2001 by Friends of the Lakeview Post Office, a non-profit organization.  The restoration was however seen through by Parma Conservation of Chicago in 2003.

Harry became part of the WPA and in his words said that being part of WPA made him feel important and in the context of a very significant cultural movement in America. One that gave priority to art and conservation of the American culture over the years.

harry sternberg self portrait from chicagos lakeview neighbourhood post office

In 1939, Harry got married to Mary Gosney; they had a daughter, and his family was in the Post office mural in Pennsylvania named “the family, industry, and agriculture.” He loved painting portraits of himself and on his wall for the Lakeview post office; he painted his image on it.

He also ensured to paint the Chicago skyline into the mural that gave the painting more life and beauty. He also included famous buildings like the Conrad Hilton hotel which was the largest hotel in the world at the time. He made sure that the mural incorporated Chicago as it is including the agriculture and stock yards that had cattle. It was all on the right side of the painting. In the steel plant on the left side, he included African American laborers. He was among the first painters to depict African American works into a painting.

The mural made his work more known as it presented a very accurate picture of the working conditions in America at the time and it gained him his place among the most famous painters in the world to date. His mural became a reference point for the great depression. It is the one fresco that is taken care of and the restoration done very thoughtfully and delicately.

The Federal Arts Project came by as a sector of the Work Progress Administration that mostly employed the unskilled. When FAP came about, the mural division was born, and it gave jobs to struggling artists who did not have the financial strength to carry forward their work.

The mural division built a name for itself and significantly developed more than the other visions within FAP. Many artists who went through this group were able to grow themselves and showcase their talents under FAP. Sternberg was among the artists in the mural division.

Retirement

1966 marked the end of Sternberg’s days in the Art Students League after which he and his family moved to California. In California, he did not stop his work; he carried on his art for 35 years more. He published a collection of prints. In one of the prints, there is his work on the mural at the Lakeview post office.

He was a celebrated painter. The Museum of California Center for the Arts held an exhibition to honor and celebrate his work and career in art. It was in 2001. The museum director did the research and writing of the catalog for the exhibition in his owner.

Harry Sternberg died in November 2001 in Escondido California where he had retired to. His work continues to be revered, and his legacy lives on. He died at 97 years old, a teacher, painter, and muralist.

His works are considered emotional but he was a strong artist who believed in achieving what he sets his mind to accomplish. In the 35 years after retirement that he continued his work, he painted the landscape of Borrego Valley in San Diego. He is remembered for his murals especially the one about Chicago city.