Over the years, at various locations, many fine artists—among them founders Stanley Koppel, Pele deLappe, Irving Fromer, Frank Rowe, Louise Gilbert, Victor Arnautoff, and Emmy Lou Packard — produced their own prints as well as political posters.
“The goal was to do socially necessary work,” said Pele deLappe at the Workshop’s 50th Anniversary Show, “Proof(s) of Life: The Graphic Arts Workshop 1952-2002,” at San Francisco’s Meridian Gallery.
“We believed art should have political significance to it, rather than just be a pretty picture,” said Louise Gilbert, who made many prints about the ’34 strike and posters for civil rights and grape-boycott rallies.
In her own work, de Lappe stated “I would do something that agitated people—to take action about peace and justice and all those glorious things. Especially against racism. I did lithographs that had all those themes. I’ve always been concerned about people. That’s why I never became an abstract expressionist; my subject was always solidly rooted in people. I dig people.”
That kind of dedication amongst the early members of the Workshop had a cost. The anti-Communist zeal of the late 40s and 50s intimidated many artists and effectively discouraged art of any dissenting or political nature. Artists, across all disciplines, became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning. Several artists of GAW were harassed by the FBI.