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Detail from Newsstand Vol. 1, No. 2 by Don Freeman

Detail from Newsstand Vol. 1, No. 2 by Don Freeman, Booth Family Center for Special Collections

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Reports from a Roving Sketchbook: Selections from Don Freeman's Newsstand

Online Exhibitions
May 27, 2020
June 14, 2020

Introduction

The tagline for Don Freeman’s visual journal Newsstand was “Signs of the Times in Lithographs.” This periodical documented daily life in New York City during and after the Great Depression and during the Second World War. In later volumes, Freeman illustrated life in post-war Los Angeles.

The lithographs of Newsstand offered readers a man-on-the-street perspective of some of the most tumultuous years in American life. Throughout its decade-long run of quarterly volumes, beginning in 1936, Newsstand showcased all walks of urban life. The periodical would continue on an irregular basis, with years passing between issues, until the final volume was published in 1968.

These images are selections from the Art Collection of the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections.

 

Artist Biography

“I saw. I wanted others to see.” - Don Freeman

The graphic artist Don Freeman (1908 - 1978) is perhaps best known for his children’s books, including Corduroy (1968). He created art with the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project during the Great Depression. During the Second World War, he served in the U.S. Army. His works have been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the American Institute of Graphic Arts in New York. Today, Freeman’s prints are part of the permanent collections of museums and libraries, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the Smithsonian.

 

Further Reading

Freeman, Roy. “Don Freeman: Artist, Illustrator, Author, Life-Lover.” The Website of Don Freeman. https://donfreeman.info/enter.

McCulloch, Edith. The Prints of Don Freeman: A Catalogue Raisonné. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. 1988.

Additional digitized images from Newsstand are available on the websites of the Museum of the City of New York, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

 

Together

Freeman often sketched the crowds of New York City. His lithographs for Newsstand documented the bustle of a city during the Great Depression. Though Freeman frequently drew crowded city scenes, virtually each face was provided with expressive detail.

A man dressed in cowboy attire with hat and accessories stands in a crowded subway. Seated passengers are reading papers and ignoring the cowboy. Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman, 1936.

Ride ’Em, Cowboy

Lithograph on paper
1936
1111.1.4724.10

Films and stage musicals about the American West were hugely popular during the 1930s. In 1936, when Freeman published this lithograph, The Big Show starring Gene Autry had just been released in theaters.

Two women and a man leaning against a pillar in the standing room section of an outdoor theater where a concert is performing on the stage. Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman.

Stadium Concert: Last Rows of Summer

Lithograph on paper
1939
1111.1.3361.19

New Yorkers celebrate the end of summer at a concert. Some audience members look forlorn, others appear glad for the coming autumn.

Six children with parents and a baby in a stroller cluster in front of a toyshop window. One child sits on the shoulders of another. Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman.

Untitled [Toy shop]

Lithograph on paper
1936
1111.1.4724.3

Families out for a walk are waylaid by the window display of a toyshop. Children of all ages are riveted by the rocking horse in the window. Even a baby in a stroller is enticed by the toy.

Two men in hat and coats are surrounded by a jubilant and apparently cacophonous mob, some shouting into hand held megaphones. The shorter man whispers into the ear of his friend. Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman.

"Don’t Look Now, Percy, but I Think He’s Won"

Lithograph on paper
1936
1111.1.4724.4

In the foreground, two well-dressed men are surprised by the results of the 1936 presidential election. They are surrounded by revelers who are raucously celebrating the re-election of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Apart

Newsstand illustrated city life at it most frenetic and at its most placid. Freeman’s work sketching dramas both on-stage and backstage helped him frame these scenes of rest and reflection.

Two women from a brownstone balcony (one looking out from the window), look down at the city street below. The Brooklyn Bridge looms in the distance. Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman.

Thy Rocks and Rills and Templed Hills

Lithograph on paper
1939
1111.1.3361.16

From a balcony, a woman and girl gaze upon the quiet street below. In the distance, the Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River. The title of the work references the American patriotic song “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”

Head shot of a man in profile to left, seated on a subway and picking his teeth with a toothpick. He reads a newspaper with the headline "King and Queen Rest." Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman.

Crown Trouble

Lithograph on paper
1939
1111.1.3361.27

A man reads the newspaper and fusses with his tooth. The caption “crown trouble” refers to the news headline about the monarchs and the man’s apparent toothache.

Woman reclining in a makeshift bed on a fire escape with apartment window open and light shining through. She holds an infant in her arms above her head. Original Newsstand color lithograph by Don Freeman.

Madonna of the Fire Escape

Lithograph on paper
1939
1111.1.3361.3

On hot summer nights, people would often sleep on their fire escapes, hoping for relief from the heat. Here, a woman plays with her baby as they try to keep cool.

An Asian woman reads a letter, sitting in a subway car. A man behind standing reads a newspaper with the headline "Drive on Shanghai." Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman.

Letter from Home

Lithograph on colored paper
1937
1997.1.107.2

In the foreground, a Chinese woman reads a letter from friends or relatives; in the background a white man reads a newspaper with the headline “Drive On, Shanghai.” One might infer they are reading the same news, about the 1937 Battle of Shanghai, from different sources.

Essential Workers

From the mayor to the street sweeper to the grocer, Freeman showcased members of society at work. Some of the depictions are humorous and others are more serious.

Two men walking side by side facing profile to left, wearing coats. They each carry a large shovel over their shoulder. Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman.

Snow Men

Lithograph on paper
1937
1995.21.1.3

Two public works men with shovels trudge through snow. One looks towards the other as though in mid-conversation.

A city street at night where a man hauls a heavy cart laden with vegetables. A police officer stand behind him and an old woman looks on behind them. A streetlight bisects the composition. The scene is partially colored in red. Original Newsstand color lithograph by Don Freeman.

City Night

Lithograph on paper
1937
1995.21.2.15

A man pushes a cart of produce on a nearly empty street. The only other people he sees at this hour are a police officer and a woman with her young child.

A male vendor at a market stands in front of his stall with arms crossed over his chest facing left. He wears an apron. Distant figures browse market produce. Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman.

Untitled (Grocer)

Lithograph on paper
1939
1111.1.3361.4

A grim-looking grocer crosses his arms in front of his cart. It seems no one is buying pineapples today.

Two politicians stand at podiums at a rally with people in front of them. They each have their hand over the mouth of the other. Original Newsstand lithograph by Don Freeman.

Advocates of Free Speech

Lithograph on paper
1939
1111.1.3361.9

Two politicians attempt to speak on their respective soapboxes. Neither can, as their mouths are covered by the other’s hand.

 

Acknowledgments: 

Curated by Maire O'Donnell, University Art Collection Curatorial Intern and Graduate Student in Art and Museum Studies, Spring  2020