Celebrating Labor Day with Ralph Fasanella
August 28, 2014
American Art's exhibition Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget will open at the American Folk Art Museum in his home city of New York on September 2, 2014, celebrating both the 100th anniversary of the artist's birth as well as the soul of Labor Day as an American holiday of commemoration and honor. Folk and self-taught art curator, Leslie Umberger, writes about the artist and his connection to the ideas intrinsic to Labor Day.
The paintings that New Yorker Ralph Fasanella made between 1945-1995 are bold narratives of the working class. They are testaments to urban American life in the early and mid-twentieth century drawn from both personal and shared experience. Fasanella identified so strongly with the workers of America that he claimed Labor Day as his official birthday—making it known that to celebrate his life was to praise the achievements of the working class.
Fasanella's parents immigrated to the United States in 1910 seeking a better life for their family. They were part of the immigrant wave that fueled America's industrial age, an era when labor was cheap and plentiful and industrial practices were unregulated, unfair, and unsafe. As members of the working class became more unified, they fought for their rights with increasing success, and Fasanella learned from both his parents and his community how effective solidarity could be.
Fasanella was just fifteen years old when the stock market crashed and America was plunged into the Great Depression. To help the family get by, he took work as a delivery boy when he could find it. But the jobs never lasted and Fasanella increasingly came to believe that the Capitalist system was propelled only by greed. He became a dedicated activist, determined to fight for his rights rather than endure injustice.
The Federal holiday of Labor Day dates to 1894, but it wasn't until 1923 that all states in the Union observed it, and in the 1930s the day meant to honor the societal contributions of the working class was reinvigorated by New Deal programs such as the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, which guaranteed the basic rights of individual workers, and the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 which limited working hours and fixed minimum wages. Fasanella was among hundreds of thousands who joined in the annual parade meant to show the strength and spirit of the masses.
American Art's exhibition Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget opens at the American Folk Art Museum on September 2, 2014.