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Holger Cahill

Holger Cahill (born Sveinn Kristján Bjarnason in Skógaströnd in Iceland, 1887 - 1960) was the National Director of the Federal Art Project (FAP), a federal patron of art that existed between 1935 and 1943 as part of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration. In 1935, in the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established a vast public works program, the WPA, to help the unemployed. Four arts projects (the so-called "white collar" projects) were included in this program: The Federal Art Project, The Federal Theater Project, The Federal Writer's Project and the Federal Music Project. Of the four, only Cahill's art project survived more or less intact, with Cahill as the original director, until 1943 when programs were terminated because of the war effort.

From a perspective of over 60 years, the most important legacy of Cahill's Federal Art Project was a nationwide examination of the roots of the American cultural identity and the nurturing of native American talent. This was achieved in three separate and distinct programs under his leadership:

1. The Index of American Design, a mammoth and comprehensive study of American material culture, produced an understanding of the wealth and breath of regional histories of the decorative and folk arts in this country. The Index produced over 15,000 detailed drawings of domestic objects dating from the Colonial days to the end of the nineteenth century -- the largest and most comprehensive study ever undertaken -- the drawings are now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Notwithstanding Cahill's interest in native American culture, the program focussed primarily on the cultural traditions of European settlers in this country.

(2) Over 100 Community Art Centers were established in regional cities without major cultural facilities, providing exhibitions, demonstrations and free instruction in the arts and crafts. From the beginning, Cahill saw the role of the Federal Art Project as an attempt to bridge the gap between the American artist and the American public. He believed that an interested public was as necessary to the artist as an audience was to the actor. The centers helped to create that wider appreciation and understanding for the arts. That a number of these centers evolved into permanent museums or galleries is testament to their effectiveness.

(3) The Federal Art Project employed between 3000-5000 artists without restrictions to content or subject matter. Critics of the Project complained about the overall quality of the work produced. Cahill responded that his was a relief project, not employment based upon merit which was the focus of several other programs that also dictated style and content. Freedom to experiment, as well as desperately needed employment, allowed the next generation of artists, the Abstract Expressionists, to develop.

Although many subsequent government patronage programs have been compared to the Federal Art Project, one must differentiate between patronage and relief. Patronage is based upon perceived merit and relief is a form of welfare, based upon desperate need and tragic circumstances. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), a smaller and completely separate project, was set up under the aegis of the Treasury Department and offered commissions to established artists for public buildings. This was a more conventional patronage program, the principal aim of which was to introduce high aesthetic standards to public decoration, thus educating the public. The PWAP was modeled on the earlier highly successful mural program in Mexico which began in 1910 and is a more conventional form of government patronage. The Federal Art Project was set up to offer employment to artists on relief. That the arts were worth preserving or underwriting in those desperate times was not always a welcome message. It was, in fact, due to Cahill's unique vision that a program aimed at saving starving and unemployed artists evolved into something of lasting value. The program essentially changed the cultural landscape of the country introducing vast segments of the population to . Cahill believed that the role of the Project was to bridge the gap between the American artist and the American public. An interested public was as necessary to the artist as an audience was to the actor.

In addition to his work as administrator, Cahill worked as a curator both at the Newark Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (see published works below). He also wrote several novels and books of nonfiction.

He died in 1960.

External links


Journal of the Archives of American Art "Holger Cahill and American Art" by Wendy Jeffers, Fall, 1992 [actual issue date] Volume 31, #4, 1991 Pages 2-11.

The Magazine Antiques, "Holger Cahill and American folk Art" by Wendy Jeffers September 1995, pages 326- 335.

WPA: Art for the Millions, 1973 Francis O'Connor, Essay by Holger Cahill "American Resources in The Arts"

Published writing by Cahill: 1921

Shadowland Magazine, August 1921, "John Sloan: Man and Artist" by Edgar Cahill, Page 11, 71-73.

Shadowland Magazine, December 1921, "A High Northern Renaissance on Iceland"

The Nation, August 17, 1921, Volume 113, Number 2928, "Purity in the Sixth Printing" Hunger by Knut Hamsun, reviewed by Edgar H. Cahill, Pages 181-182

The Nation, October 26, 1921, Volume 113, Number 2938, "Artists and Business Men", Shallow Soil by Knut Hamsun

New York Herald Tribune, November 27, 1921, "Hunger From Hamsun," Dreamers by Knut Hamsun reviewed by Holger Cahill.


Bookman, January, 1922, "Icelandic Renaissance", Volume 54, Number 5, pages 496-7.

New York Times Book Review, "Hanging out the Crepe for Europe", February 19, 1922, pages 12, 23. International Studio, March 1922, Volume 75, Number 299, "America has its Primitives" page 80-3. (article about the Pueblo Indian art in the Exhibition of Independent Artists)

Shadowland, February, 1922, "Ernest Lawson and His America" by Edgar Holger Cahill, Page 23, 72.

Shadowland, June 1922, "Bruce Crane: Master of Landscape" by Edgar Holger Cahill, Page 11, 70, 75. (With color reproduction).

Shadowland, August 1922, "Bryson Burroughs" by Edgar Holger Cahill Page 11, 66-67. (with color reproductions).

Shadowland Magazine, September 1922 "John Costigan Carries the Flame" by Edgar Holger Cahill, Page 11, 71 (with color reproductions)

Shadowland Magazine November 1922 "Hayley Lever, Individualist (The artist who believes that man may draw inspiration from all sources, but that the only deadly sin is imitation" by Edgar Holger Cahill, Page 11, 77 (with color reproductions)

International Studio, November 1922, "Trygue Hammer's Sculpture", Volume 76, Number 306, pages 104-7

The Freeman, November 23, 1922, Article, title unknown by Holger Cahill, page 254?


Shadowland , February 1923, "Jonas Lie: Poet of Today", Volume 7, Number 6, by Edgar Cahill, Page 11, 70.

Shadowland Magazine, April 1923, "Kenneth Hayes Miller Who Occupies the place in the world of Art that James Branch Cabell holds in Literature" by Edgar Cahill, Page 11, 71

Shadowland June 1923 "The Odyssey of George Hart Who is the dean of the globe-trotting painters, and whose work shows a genuine gusto for life" by Edgar Cahill, Page 11, 70

Shadowland September 1923 "Gaspard and America's Growth" (article about Leon Gaspard of the Milch Galleries by Edgar Cahill


Tavern Topics, April 1924, "Norsemen of Old Invade American Art, Viking Warriors and Traditions Embodied in the Beautiful Decorative Motifs of New York's Newest Restaurant", by Edgar H. Cahill, page 17, 39. 1926 Paintings: Newark Museum, (Second List), The Newark Museum Association, 1926, Newark, New Jersey; Notes by Holger Cahill. 1927 Profane Earth The Macaulay Co., New York 1927, (Book Jacket drawn by John Sloan) (Dedicated the book to John Cotton Dana) (fiction)

New York Herald Tribune Books, November 27, 1927, "Adventures in Lithography" George W. Bellows: His Lithographs," reviewed by Holger Cahill. 1928

George O. "Pop" Hart, The Downtown Gallery, New York, 1928, 25 pages. Essay by Holger Cahill. Some editions of the book were published with an original lithograph in frontispiece.

Poster, June 1928: "Poster Art in the Newark Museum" by Edgar Holger Cahill, staff member of the Newark Museum and the Newark Library

Louise Connolly The Newark Museum, "Miss Connolly continued her Teaching in the Library and Museum" by Holger Cahill (small booklet published by the Newark Library and Museum at the time of her death. JCD: "these notes on the life of Miss Louise Connolly were prepared by Mrs. Henry B. Twombly of Summit New Jersey and by HC of the library museum and staff")


Contemporary American Art, Municipal Art Gallery, Atlantic City, 1929, (Exhibition Dates: June 19 - October 1, 1929), Introduction by Holger Cahill (Cahill listed as one of three on the Exhibition Committee.)

Creative Art, 1929 "The Museum and American Contemporary Art" (Newark Museum issued a reprint)

Forbes Magazine, August 15, 1929, "The Machine Industry's Need for Art" by John Cotton Dana, in collaboration with Holger Cahill

The Museum, Newark New Jersey, February 1929, vol II, #5, "New American Paintings and Sculpture", pages 34-35


A Yankee Adventurer, The Macaulay Company, New York, 1930. [Fall]

Americana Illustrated, Volume XXIV, #1, January, 1930, "The Life and Work of John Cotton Dana", page 69-84. (by Edgar Holger Cahill)

Space, (Cahill was Editor in Chief) Volumes 1 - 3, January, 1930; March 1930; and June 1930.

Max Weber, The Downtown Gallery, New York, 1930, 45 pages, 32 photographic plates. Essay by Holger Cahill. Some editions of the book were published with an original lithograph in frontispiece

Modern American Watercolors, January 4 - February 9, 1930, Newark Museum, Introduction by Cahill, pages 7-8.

American Primitives, "An Exhibit of the Paintings of Nineteenth Century Folk Artists", Newark Museum, 1930; November 4, 1930 - February 1, 1931, Introduction by Cahill, pages 7-9; Portraits, Descriptive notes, by Cahill pages 11- 15; Landscapes and Other Scenes, Descriptive notes by Cahill pages 61-63; Decorative Pictures, Descriptive notes by Cahill, pages 69-75; Wood Sculpture, Descriptive notes by Cahill, page 77.

The Nation, October 8, 1930, "Early Lawlessness" The Outlaw Years by Robert M. Coates, reviewed by Holger Cahill, Volume 131, Number 3405, Pages 380-381.


Jules Pascin, The Downtown Gallery, New York, 1931, Catalogue text by Holger Cahill. There were also texts by Frank Crowninshield and Henry McBride. Exhibition dates: January 3-25

William Zorach, The Downtown Gallery, Essay by Cahill in Exhibition Announcement. exhibition dates: January 27 - February 15.

Atelier, June 1931, "American Primitives", pages 417-424

The American Mercury, September 1931, "American Folk Art", Volume XXIV, Number 93, Pages 39-46.

American Folk Sculpture, "The Work of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Craftsmen", Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey, 1931; October 20, 1931 to January 31, 1932 American Folk Sculpture, Pages 13-18; Wood Carving: Ship's Figureheads, pages 23-29; Cigar Store Figures, pages 31-32; Portraits, pages 38-39; Eagles, page 48; Schimmel Carvings, pages 54-55; The Pennsylvania Germans, Pages 56 - 61; Decoy Birds, pages 63-65; Toys, Page 68; Work in Metal, Page 71 - 77; Fire Marks, Pages 83; Iron Stove Plates, Page 85 -86; Pottery and Plaster Ornaments, Pages 93-96; A Note on Stone Carving, Page 97-98;

Scribner's Magazine, September 1931, Volume XC, Number 3, "He-Rain", pages 259-269 (fiction)

Scribner's Magazine, December 1931, Volume XC, Number 6, "Fun (A Story)", Pages 653-660 (fiction)


The American Mercury, August 1932, Volume XXVI, Number 104, "The Life of Art", Pages 487-494. (fiction)

Life in the United States, "A Collection of Narratives of Contemporary American Life From First Hand Experience or Observation", New York, Charles Scribner's 1932, 1933, story by Holger Cahill He-Rain, pages 79-94.. (fiction)

Formes, March 1932, Number 23, "American Folk Art", pages 232-234, a reprint of the article from the American Mercury

Creative Art, March 1932, "Bernard Karfiol", Pages 181-188.

Parnassus, March 1932, Volume IV, Number III, "Folk Art: Its Place in the American Tradition", Pages 1 - 4.

American folk art: The art of the common man in America, 1750 - 1900, 1932, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Essay, pages 3 - 28, (Exhibition Dates: November 30, 1932- January 14, 1933).

Creative Art, December 1932, Volume XI, Number 4, "Early Folk Art in America" pages 254-270. (Reprinted from Museum of Modern Art exhibition catalogue American folk art: The art of the common man in America, 1750-1900)

America as Americans See It, 1932, Edited by Fred J. Ringel, Harcourt Brace, New York, (Cahill wrote "American Art Today", pages 244-266, Introduction by Henry McBride)

American painting and sculpture, 1862-1932, 1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Essay, pages 9 - 22 (Exhibition Dates: October 31, 1932 - January 31, 1933).


American Sources of Modern Art, 1933, Museum of Modern Art, W. W. Norton and Co. Inc., Essay, pages 5 - 21 (Exhibition Dates: May 10 - June 30, 1933), Cahill was Director of the Exhibition. This book was also published under the title Aztec, Inca and Mayan Art printed by Garrett Press.


First Municipal Art Exhibition, Foreword by Cahill, Exhibition Dates: February 28- March 31.

Arshile Gorky, Mellon Galleries, Philadelphia, essays by Cahill, Frederick Kiesler, Harriet Janowitz and Stuart Davis

Art in America in Modern Times, 1934, Reynal and Hitchcock, New York, Edited by Alfred Barr and Holger Cahill, (Essays by Cahill: "American Painting 1865-1934", Pages 7 - 50 and "American Sculpture Since the Civil War", Pages 51 - 62.)


Anne Goldthwaite, The Downtown Gallery New York 1935, Essay by Cahill in Exhibition announcement, Exhibition dates: December 11-28

Sculpture by Chaim Gross, Boyer Galleries, Philadelphia, Pa. Essay by Cahill in Exhibition Announcement, exhibition dates: January 16 - February 5,

Art in America, A Complete Survey, Halcyon House, New York, 1935, Edited by Alfred Barr and Holger Cahill, (Essays by Cahill: Folk and Popular Art: Pages 42-44; American Painting 1865-1934: Pages 65-108; American Sculpture Since the Civil War: Pages 109-120)

Federal Art Project Manual, U.S. Works Progress Administration, Washington D.C., October 1935, Publication #7120.


New Horizons in American Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1936, Introduction by Cahill, Exhibition Dates: September 14 - October 21, Arno reprint in 1969.

American Art Portfolio, Series One, Raymond and Raymond Publishers, 1936, Introduction by Cahill, pages 17-25. The essay was also published separately as American Painting, A Short Essay by Holger Cahill by Raymond and Raymond, n.d.

Old and New Paths in American Design, November 1936, (12 Pages) Newark Museum, (Essay by Holger Cahill Pages 3-10) (Text of Address at Newark Museum November 6, 1936 on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition of the work of the F.A.P. of the W.P.A. held at the Newark Museum)

The Nation, October 10, 1936, Art: "Toward an American Art", (Discusses Federal Art Project and Exhibition at MoMA)


Architectural Record, September 1937, Volume 82, Pages 63-68, Design Trends, "Mural America", Essay by Cahill


Masters of Popular Painting: Modern Primitives of Europe and America (April 27 - July 24, 1938), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in collaboration with The Grenoble Museum. Chapter on American Primitives entitled "Artists of the People", pages 95-105 by Cahill

Wellman, Rita: "American Design: Historic Examples from Index of American Design," House and Garden, July 1938, volume 74,, pages 15-39.

Loren MacIver, East River Gallery, Essay by Cahill in Exhibition Announcement, Exhibition Dates: March 29 - April 16, 1938.

New York Herald Tribune Books, September 4, 1938. "In a Native Tradition - A Subtle Study of One Artist whose Roots lie Deep in Old American Simplicities", Charles Sheeler, Artist in the American Tradition by Constance Rourke, reviewed by Holger Cahill, page 4.

Reader's Digest, November 1938, "Art for Our Sake" (Community Art Centers and the WPA)


American Art Today, New York World's Fair, National Art Society, Essay, 1939, "American Art Today" pages 19 - 32

Resources For Building America Number 15, 1939 (The Speeches contained in this booklet were delivered at the National Meeting in celebration of the 80th Birthday of John Dewey, New York City, October 20-21, 1939), American Resources in the Arts, , page 41- ?.

Parnassus, College Art Association, May 1939, volume XI, Number 5, "American Art Today", (Reprint of the World's Fair essay) Pages 14, 15, 35 - 37.

New York Times, June 18, 1939 (Sunday Gravure Picture Section) "Art: Yesterday Versus Today", Essay by Holger Cahill on the 1939 Worlds Fair Exhibitions: "Moderns," Page ____

The Studio, June 1939, "Modern American Art"


The New Republic, September 14, 1942, "The Faces of War", Men of the RAF by Sir William Rothenstein; War Pictures by British Artists: War At Sea; Blitz; RAF; Army'. reviewed by Holger Cahill Page 324.


John Cotton Dana and the Newark Museum, A Museum in action: Presenting the Museum's activities. Catalogue of an exhibition of American paintings and sculpture from the Museum's collections, Newark Museum, Newark New Jersey, 1944, (Exhibition Dates: October 31, 1944 to January 31, 1945) "Introduction" by Cahill (35th Anniversary Exhibition), 191 pages.

Canadian Art, February- March 1944, Volume 1, Number 3, "Art Goes To Public in the United States", Pages 102-107, 129-131.

American Contemporary Art, Volume 1, #9, November 1944, "The Museum and The Community", pages 9 - 11

USA: An American Review, Volume 2, #9, published by the US Office of War Information, "Government Art Projects" by Holger Cahill, page 46., 1944?

The League, Winter, 1944-45, (Bulletin published by the Art Student's League): "A Defense of the WPA Art Project" Pages 12-13.


Magazine of Art, May 1945, Volume 38, Number 5, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt", page 163.

The Studio, July 1945, Volume CXXX, Number 628, "Artists in War and Peace", Pages 1 - 15.

Art News, October 15-31, 1945, "Stuart Davis", page 24-25, 32.


Magazine of Art, November 1946, Volume 39, Number 7, "In Our Time", Page 308-325

ALA News (Artists League of America), Number 1, 1946, "Can Art Survive with its Present Patronage?" (Excerpts from an address given to ALA on February 15, 1946 at the ACA Gallery by Cahill)


Look South to the Polar Star, Harcourt Brace and Company, New York. January 23, 1947, (fiction)

Magazine of Art May 1947, "Book Review", by Holger Cahill of "The Meeting of East and West", by F.S.C. Northrup, page 201

Magazine of Art, November 1947, Volume 40, Number 7, Principles of Chinese Painting, by George Rowley, page 291 1949

Magazine of Art, March 1949, Volume 42, Number 3, "A Symposium: The State of American Art", Page 88.

Magazine of Art, April 1949, Volume 42, Number 4, The Painting of Max Weber, "Max Weber: A Reappraisal in Maturity" Pages 128-133.

Magazine of Art, May 1949, Volume 42, Number 5, "Forty Years After: An Anniversary for the A.F.A.", Pages 169-178.


The Index of American Design, Erwin O. Christensen, Introduction by Holger Cahill, The MacMillan Company, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1950

House Beautiful, October, 1950, "You Can Trace the roots of the American Style to America's Folk Art". Pages 138 - 139, 206-209, 273.

Antiques, May 1950, FOLK ART ISSUE What is American Folk Art?, A Symposium (Included Jack Baur, Holger Cahill, Edwin Christensen, Carl Drepperd, James Flexner, John Kouwenhoven, Nina Fletcher Little, E.P. Richardson, Frank O. Spinney, Janet MacFarlane and Louis Jones) Page 355.


Antiques, March 1951, Volume LIX, Number 3, "Artisan and Amateur in American Folk Art", Pages 210-211.

Minnesota History, 1951, The French in America, 1520-1880, Detroit Institute of Arts Exhibition, reviewed by Holger Cahill, page 36.


Introduction to Documentary Record of Fire Marks published by the HV Smith Museum of the Home Insurance Company, 1952

Magazine of Art, November 1952, Volume 45, Number 7, "Niles Spencer", Pages 313-315

Downtown Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings by Niles Spencer, October 28 - November 15, 1952, Essay by Cahill in Exhibition Announcement (Reprint of the above essay from the Magazine of Art).

Herald Tribune Book Review, April 6, 1952, "Independent Citizen of the World of Art - An Understanding Monograph on the Rebel Painter John Sloan", John Sloan, by Lloyd Goodrich, reviewed by Holger Cahill,

Saturday Review, December 20, 1952, "War Photo Pioneers", Divided We Fought, A Pictorial History of the Civil War, 1861-1865, by Hirst Milhollen, Milton Kaplan, Hulen Stuart, reviewed by Holger Cahill, page 12.


Morgan Russell, Rose Fried Gallery, Essay by Cahill in Exhibition Announcement, Exhibition dates: October 26 - November 1953.

Herald Tribune, "John Sloan", Date, 1953?, Page Number?

Herald Tribune, April 12, 1953, "Artists and Illustrators of the Old West", Fifty Pictorial Years of the Old West, by Robert Taft, reviewed by Holger Cahill, page 4.

Saturday Review, November 7, 1953, "Still Collection" After The Hunt by Alfred Frankenstein, reviewed by Holger Cahill, page 51,


Art Digest, February 15, 1954, "Ancient Art of the Andes,"Pages 7 - 9.

Herald Tribune, December 12, 1954, "A Witty Westerner on Chinese Painting", Aspects of Chinese Painting by Alan Priest, reviewed by Holger Cahill, page 3.

New York Times Book Review, November 7, 1954, "Pathways to the Past", The Eagle, The Jaguar and the Serpent, Indian Art of the Americas: North America, reviewed by Holger Cahill, page 3.


50 Ans d'art aux Etats Unis, Introduction by HC, dated February 16, 1955 (Exhibition held at the Musee d'Art Modern in Paris)

Herald Tribune, January 2, 1955, "Serene Fields", Amishland by Kiehl and Christian Newswanger, reviewed by Holger Cahill, page 4.

Saturday Review, November 26, 1955, John Singer Sargent by Charles Merrill Mount, reviewed by Holger Cahill, page 16.


The Shadow of My Hand, Harcourt Brace and Co, NY 1956, (fiction)

Marg, A Magazine of the Arts, Volume X, December 1956, #1, American Supplement: "Twentieth Century Art in the U.S." "Painting" pages 46-62 and "Sculpture" pages 63-67, Illustrated.

Modern Art in the United States, a selection from the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York shown at the Tate Gallery, essay American Painting and Sculpture in the Twentieth Century by Cahill


New York Times Book Review, November 10, 1957, "Yesterday in the Middle Americas", Indian Art of Mexico and Central America by Miguel Covarrubias, reviewed by Holger Cahill.


Herald Tribune Book Review, December 6, 1959, "George Catlin: In His Art the Frontier American Indian Endures", George Catlin and the Old Frontier, by Harold McCracken; George Catlin: Episodes From "Life Among the Indians" and "Last Rambles" Edited by Marvin c. Ross, reviewed by Holger Cahill, Page ?


Herald Tribune Book Review, January 3, 1960, "The Rich Sweep of the Great Rivers He Painted Was in Bingham's Art", George Caleb Bingham: River Portraitist by John Francis McDermott, reviewed by Holger Cahill, Page ?

Herald Tribune Book Review, July 10, 1960, "He Gambled and Pioneered, and Fathered a Painter", Son of a Gamblin Man by Mari Sandoz

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