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September 27, 2019

Still Going… — Raina Wellman, BFA Graphic Design, 2019

by Raina Wellman

On top of juggling the tail end of my current projects with VIM and the New York Health Department, I’ve continued to work on my research. I’ve recently been particularly focused on methods of presenting my research as well as putting together the book I’ve been working on, “Cultures of Paranoia and Repair: Art History and Pandemic Disease.” I’m interested in the ways in which I can expand the audience of this subject matter and also publish the work and research so that it is free to the public. In terms of publishing methods, I’ve been spending some time looking into and reaching out to (free to access) places/platforms where I can blog/present the material.

I’m really excited and committed to continuing this project as well as learning about new ways that visual communication can contribute to the public health field. I’m hopeful that my project/research can do important work in de-stigmatizing disease as well as showing the important relationship between visual communication, community action, public health, and the government. I want to inspire creative action as well as acknowledge the importance of good visual communication both inside and outside of government public health outreach programs (particularly in response to sticky problems). 

In this blog post I wanted to share some of the images and content I’m working with for my research. It is, of course, still a work in progress. I’ve attached screenshots of some of the intro book spreads below. I’m excited to continue working and expanding upon this project. I know that it will be a passion project for a long time.


Part of my research has focused on the rich collection of Work Projects Administration (WPA) public health posters, primarily regarding syphilis. I wanted to share a little bit about this collection, particularly because it shows an extremely artful (and artist controlled) approach to visual communication of disease supported by the government.

Between 1936 and 1943 the WPA created many public education posters, 907 of which have been archived by the Library of Congress. The New Deal program, which included the WPA, was created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to put millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Many visual artists found employment through the Federal Art Project.

Notably, the New York poster division was led by Richard Floethe, an internationally recognized German-born industrial designer. Floethe was educated by the Bauhaus aesthetic movement and the styles of this movement are evident in many of the WPA posters. Using mediums of poster production including silkscreen, lithograph, and woodcut, artists sponsored by the New Deal in seventeen U.S. states added an interesting artistic touch to public health and public information campaigns.

On the left, a poster by Erik Hans Krause for Rochester NY WPA Project published between 1936 and 1938.
On the right, a poster from the New York WPA, published between 1930 and 1950. 

To conclude my work under the wonderful support of the Maharam Fellowship, I’m sharing part of my (still in progress) book conclusion:

My archive and research proves that public health and graphic design can be influential and beautiful tools, it also shows an inspiring history of community driven action in response to large illness outbreaks. Artists, designers, authors, community organizers, and public health officials must be mindful of their power to advance fear and stigmatization. With proper organization and good intentions, these groups have the power to create positive change in the treatment of illness, in combatting stigmatization, and in advocating for equitable healthcare coverage.

A super scary and stigma-tinged advert created by the Illinois Department of Public Health in 1994. In moments of crises and fear I wonder how this type of subject matter could be best approached? It’s a difficult question…
Remember to get your vaccines for this flu season!
This graphic is depicting a smallpox vaccination (1940).
The Glasgow Corporation tram, which was created as part of the city’s Mass X-ray campaign in 1957. At the time, Glasgow has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the U.S. The tram is an interesting spectacle as well as an attempt to reach the general public in an alternative way.

I want to extend my gratitude to Maharam for this gift of time and support, to Kevin Jankowski who has been an amazing supervisor, my incredible mentors Katherine Mastrangelo (at VIM) and Vanessa Smith (at the New York Health Department), and Matthew Landrus (for helping me to begin this research and passion project). I look forward to continuing to expand this project and to future opportunities to contribute in the public health profession.

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