The Rez Williams Poster: Inspired by Depression Era Works


The graphic artist Anthony Velonis coined the term serigraphy, also known as silk screening, while working as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) artist during the Great Depression. Velonis had a background in advertising and encouraged the government to use serigraphy to streamline production of the many posters that were being designed to promote an array of government sponsored programs and projects. As a result, the posters that came out of the WPA’s Federal Art Project have an easily recognizable aesthetic and are now celebrated collector’s items. As Richard Floethe, director of the Federal Art Project, once wrote, “The government unwittingly launched a movement to improve the commercial poster and raise it to a true art form.”

Fourteen of these FAP posters were designed to encourage Americans to visit the country’s national parks. This past winter, before the Covid-19 pandemic upended the economy, before the unemployment numbers spiked and set off the rattle of comparisons to the Depression years, Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation asked West Tisbury painter Rez Williams if he would consider doing a painting for a poster of a Sheriff’s Meadow property reminiscent of the WPA national park posters.

“Sara Tucker, one of our board members, had the idea of doing a poster, and naturally the WPA poster series came to mind,” SMF Executive Director Adam Moore recently said. “I have long been enamored by the WPA posters. They beautifully capture the spirit of the parks and they have a unique style.”

Moore and Tucker approached Rez Williams, a West Tisbury resident and painter who is best known for his large-scale oil paintings of commercial fishing vessels and for his landscapes. At first Williams wasn’t sure if his saturated palette would work in the WPA style. “I said it’s an intriguing idea, but I don’t know if I can pull it off in an oil painting. But then I was looking at some of the stuff that I’ve been working on lately and there are a lot of flat areas in the landscape painting I’ve been doing. So I said, I’ll give it a try.”

Each of the WPA’s national park’s posters focus on an iconic image, whether it be a geyser at Yellowstone or a steep cliff at Zion. Williams wanted his painting to reflect the thematic intent of the vintage posters and painted the large rock and beach at Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary in West Tisbury. Williams, a former SMF board member, has generously donated his time and the original painting to the land conservation group.

With unemployment levels touching numbers that this country hasn’t seen since the 1930s, the timing of this poster suddenly resonates more than anyone expected. “Obviously I wasn’t anticipating the pandemic or the economic crisis that followed,” said Moore, who added, “The two eras that really shined as eras of great achievement in conservation were the Progressive Era, a lot of which took place during what people call the Gilded Age, and the Great Depression. That to me shows that conservation has enduring value in good times and bad, and that there’s always work to be done and always a positive role that conservation land can play in the life of our community and nation.”

Proceeds from poster sales support Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. Donate to SMF for a 14” x 19” poster, for more information, email:

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