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Artist Franz Felix Proposes Artwork for FDR’s 1936 Reelection Campaign
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This sheet contains five rough sketches of graphics calling on the workers and voters of America to support Franklin D. Roosevelt’s reelection in 1936. They did, in record numbers.

[PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OF 1936]. Typed Document Signed. Artwork by Franz Felix and Ideas and Copy by Richard Barron, “Set of Rough Sketches Containing Some Suggested Promotion Ideas to be Used in the 1936 Democratic Presidential Campaign,” July 2, 1936. 1 p., 12 x 10½ in.

Inventory #24942       Price: $1,600

Excerpts:

1. Sounding the call against ‘economic royalists’ in the spirit of 1776.

2. Appropriating the well-known symbol of violence [upraised fist], diverting it to peaceful democratic use. To include the farmer, phrase the appeal: TOILERS OF AMERICA – UNITE FOR ROOSEVELT.

3. The statue of ‘The Thinker’ as a symbol of the man today who thinks, the toiler with brawn and brain...everyman.

4. Direct appeal to radical labor and leftists in general.

5. Another way of appealing to the working class men and women.

This collaborative effort respectfully submitted for consideration to the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mr. James A. Farley.

Historical Background

After unseating incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover in 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for reelection in 1936. His Republican opponent was Governor Alf Landon of Kansas. Although the Great Depression had entered its eighth year, Roosevelt’s New Deal policies were broadly popular. He won the highest share of the popular and electoral vote since the uncontested 1820 election. Roosevelt attracted more than 60 percent of the popular vote and won the electoral votes of 46 states; Landon won the electoral votes of only Maine and Vermont.

Democratic Party chairman James Farley had predicted that Roosevelt would lose only Maine and Vermont. After the results of the 1936 election, Farley quipped that the nation needed to revise the conventional political wisdom of “As Maine goes, so goes the nation” to “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”

These ideas for campaign imagery employed or modified common images to support Roosevelt’s campaign. One drew on the imagery of artist Archibald Willard’s 1875 painting The Spirit of ’76 and employed three figures of workers to match the subjects of Willard’s image. Another appropriated the upraised fist as a symbol of violence and repurposed it as a symbol of defiant unity against “economic royalists.” A third used an image of The Thinker by French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) to appeal to thinking voters. Another image appeals to the fears of radicals that the alternative to Roosevelt is “Reaction.”

Richard Barron and artist Franz Felix submitted these ideas to Democratic National Committee chairman James A. Farley on July 2, 1936, three weeks before the Democratic Party held its convention in Philadelphia. There is no evidence that these images were used in the campaign, and it is possible that Farley rejected them. At the end of the campaign, the Democratic National Committee had a campaign deficit of approximately $850,000. To help offset those expenses, the treasurer convinced President Roosevelt to sign 2,500 brief Forewords, which were bound into The Democratic Book 1936 and sent to donors of $250. Purchases brought in more than $400,000 for the party and led Republicans to charge corrupt practices for allowing corporations to contribute to the campaign by buying copies.

Franz Felix (1892-1967) was born in Vienna, Austria, and developed an ability as a child to draw portraits in charcoal. He studied portraiture in Vienna and immigrated to the United States shortly after World War I. He settled in San Francisco, where he established himself as a portrait artist and commercial illustrator. In the late 1920s, he moved to New York and established a studio in the suburb of Spring Valley, where he produced book and magazine illustrations. During World War II, he painted a series of murals of wartime activities of Spring Valley residents.

James A. Farley (1888-1976) was born in New York into an Irish Catholic family. After his father died, he helped his mother with a small business to support the family. After graduating from Packard Business College in New York City, where he studied bookkeeping and other business skills, Farley got a job with the U.S. Gypsum Corporation. He served as a Democratic town clerk in Stony Point, New York and became chairman of the county’s Democratic Party in 1918. He organized upstate Democrats and helped elect Alfred E. Smith as Governor that year. He served in the New York State Assembly in 1923 but was defeated at the next election for supporting the repeal of Prohibition. As chair of the state Athletic Commission, Farley fought for the civil rights of African American athletes. Farley founded he General Builders Corporation from smaller firms to become New York City’s largest building supply company. Farley directed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s narrowly successful New York gubernatorial campaign in 1928 and his reelection in 1930. Farley served as chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee from 1930 to 1944, and helped build the national New Deal coalition that elected Roosevelt to the Presidency four times. In 1932, Farley became the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and in 1933, U.S. Postmaster General. He held both positions until 1940. Farley and Roosevelt broke on the two-term tradition of the Presidency in 1940, and he later helped propose the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting a person to two elections as president, approved by Congress in 1947 and ratified in 1951. Farley became chairman of the board of the Coca-Cola Export Corporation in 1940 and held that position for more than thirty years.


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