The Art of Jack Delano
Jack Delano's life as a socially committed artist began in the late 1930s. In 1940, shortly after completing art school, Delano was hired by the New Deal's Farm Security Administration to travel the Atlantic seaboard photographing the Depression's devastating effects and the impact of wartime mobilization.
In 1941, Delano made one working trip to Puerto Rico, an experience that impressed him deeply. The poverty, he later recalled, was far worse than in other regions he had visited, but he was struck by "the dignity, indomitable spirit, and unquenchable sense of humor of the people in the face of the most appalling adversity." After three months of intensive photography, he was reluctant to leave. Following wartime service as a military photographer, he returned to Puerto Rico, made the island his home, and became a constant participant in the cultural life of Puerto Rico.
Jack Delano's career was brilliantly multifaceted. He has been recognized as one of the great contributors to the Farm Security Administration's collection of New Deal social documents. He is also known as a chronicler of change in postwar Puerto Rico, as a filmmaker, as a composer, and as an illustrator of children's books designed in collaboration with his wife, Irene.
The Art of Jack Delano represented the first major effort to bring together the extraordinary range of Delano's artistic endeavors. For all their diversity, Delano's works consistently manifest his passionate commitment to popular culture and communication.
The exhibition was built around a substantial review of the eloquent photographic portraits and carefully composed interiors and landscapes that Delano contributed to the Farm Security Administration.
By considering these New Deal images along with the photographs, films, and graphics Delano made in Puerto Rico over the last fifty years, the exhibition traced a profoundly moral vision that is tempered by a compassionate, humorous sense of what it means to be human.
The Art of Jack Delano was organized with the generous support of Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. An extensive Education Resource Guide accompanies the exhibition. Jack Delano's autobiography, Photographic Memories, is available from the Smithsonian Institution Press.
This Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service exhibition toured from 1997-2000.