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Seminar Series and Art Exhibit Examine Labor History inCalifornia

July 26, 2005

Reception for “At Work” Exhibit Set for Sept. 29 in Kolligian Library

MERCED, CA— Comprising passionate struggles and triumphs as well as dehumanizing forces, the story of labor in California is examined in a traveling art exhibition coming this week to the University of California, Merced. A public reception to be held on campus in the Kolligian Library this Thursday, September 29 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. marks the opening of “At Work: The Art of California Labor,” which runs through November 5.

Presented by UC Merced in collaboration with the California Exhibition Resources Alliance, this unique exhibit offers powerful perspectives on workforce-related issues as seen through the eyes of artists who witnessed or were inspired by the most significant trends and events in 20 th-century labor history. “At Work” takes audiences on a journey from the early events and conditions that led to the rise of organized labor to issues surrounding the farm workers' movement. This compilation of images offers surprising insights into work — a fundamental component of our daily lives — and shows how our collective identity has evolved over time.

Featuring many of California's most noted artists, the “At Work” exhibition combines original artwork from contemporary artists, such as Yolanda Lopez, Ester Hernandez and Francisco Dominguez, with high-quality reproductions of historical works by noted artists Diego Rivera, Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti and many others. This broad range of art and artists provides a dialog between political motives and aesthetic aspirations that occurred throughout the 20th century and continue today.

The “At Work” exhibition tour is organized by the California Exhibition Resources Alliance (CERA), a network of museums and cultural organizations that create and tour smaller, high-quality exhibitions to enhance civic engagement and human understanding, and is funded through The James Irvine Foundation. Produced by the California Historical Society and San Francisco State University, the exhibition is accompanied by a 154-page color catalog with essays by exhibition curator Mark Dean Johnson and others. The catalog is available through Heyday Books in Berkeley.

The art exhibit is planned to complement a series of lectures that focus on labor issues and are scheduled to take place on campus throughout UC Merced's inaugural year. Professors Jan Goggans, Belinda Reyes and Shawn Kantor organized the series, “Seventy Years of Migrant Labor in California,” for which they were awarded a $20,000 grant by the UC Office of the President.

“Migrant labor has a long and complicated history in the state of California,” said Goggans, a professor of literature at UC Merced. “Migration is an inherent part of our culture - part of what makes us Californians. We designed this seminar series to address the many ways in which we have been able to express, understand and protest migrant labor over the years, including works in the areas of art, history, policy, economics and literature.”

Throughout the fall, the lectures will put the spotlight on California labor in the 1930s. David Vaught, a history professor from Texas A&M University, will launch the series on October 13 with a presentation on “Labor History until the Great Depression,” to be followed by UC Merced Professor Sean Malloy's seminar about “Labor History of the Great Depression” on October 17. Additional sessions will address the labor art of California, the history of the labor market, labor in fiction, the impact of the New Deal on Depression-era migration and migrant labor.

In early 2006, the lecture series will turn its attention to current topics related to the migrant workforce. Speakers such as Jorge Durand, an anthropology professor at Mexico's University of Guadalajara and a member of the National Academy of Science, and Kitty Calavita, a professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine, will explore immigration policies and policy issues facing migrant labor.

Adding a visual art component to the spring series will be “Miracles on the Border: Folk Painting of Mexican Migrants to the U.S.,” an exhibition of more than 50 “retablos.”

Retablos are votive works created in this century by Mexican immigrants or their relatives. Although well known in Mexico, the retablo tradition is largely unfamiliar in the United States. Through this exhibit, the curators seek to introduce new audiences to this genre of art, while presenting the perspective of Mexican immigrants on the complex process of migration.

The series of lectures and the art exhibits are free and open to the public.

Schedules and Additional Information


What: “At Work: The Art of California Labor” is an exhibition of artwork that explores the artists and images of labor in California.

Where: Kolligian Library, second floor, on the UC Merced campus. UC Merced is located at 5200 Lake Road off Bellevue Road. The Kolligian Library is located on Scholars Lane.
Take the Blue Wing entrance to the library and proceed to the second floor.

When: Opening reception is scheduled on September 29 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public during regular library hours through November 5.

Lecture Series

What: The first segment of “Seventy Years of Migrant Labor in California,” a seminar series to be presented throughout the 2005-06 academic year, focuses on labor in California during the 1930s.

  • October 13 at 4 p.m. — “Labor History Until the Great Depression” by David Vaught
  • October 17 at 4 p.m. — “Labor History of the Great Depression” by Sean Malloy
  • October 24 at 4 p.m. — “At Work: Labor Art of California” by Mark Dean Johnson
  • October 28 at 5 p.m. — “Historical Perspectives on the Labor Market” by Susan Carter
  • November 21 — “Labor in Fiction during the 1930s” by Paula Rabinowitz
  • December 5 — “The Political Economy of Federal New Deal Spending and its Impact on Depression-Era Migration” by Price Fishback
  • December 12 at 4 p.m. — “Migrant Labor in California during the 1930s” by Devra Weber

Where: All lectures will be presented at UC Merced in Room 209 of the Kolligian Library, other than the October 13 lecture, which will take place in the California Room in the Valley Terraces Center on campus.

UC Merced is located at 5200 Lake Road, off of Bellevue Road. The Kolligian Library is located on Scholars Lane. Take the Blue Wing entrance to the library and proceed to the second floor. The California Room is on Scholars Lane in the Valley Terraces Center.