In this first biography of artist Belle (Goldschlager) Baranceanu, Jennifer Peoples Hernandez tells the extraordinary story of a woman who rose from humble beginnings to become the most important female muralist in San Diego during the Great Depression and a prominent California Modern artist. Her meteoric rise in the art world began in Chicago in the 1920s, but the onset of the Great Depression nearly ended her career. Drawing from previously unpublished letters and archival records, Hernandez skillfully weaves Baranceanu’s resilient story into the larger history of the Depression and New Deal in Chicago and San Diego and highlights the success of the government’s work relief programs. For Baranceanu and others fortunate enough to work for the New Deal art projects, the Depression turned out to be a goldenage in American art history with a level of government patronage that has been unmatched ever since.
Jennifer Peoples Hernandez teaches at San Diego Mesa College.
Chapter 1: The First American
Chapter 2: Childhood and Homesteading in North Dakota
Chapter 3: Becoming an Artist
Chapter 4: The Los Angeles Period
Chapter 5: Grief and Depression
Chapter 6: Relief
Chapter 7: The Federal Government Becomes a Patron of the Arts
Chapter 8: The Emergency Work Relief Program in San Diego
Chapter 9: A World’s Fair and a Growing Art Community
Chapter 10: A Second New Deal for the Arts
Chapter 11: Decorating the Post Office
Chapter 12: The Federal Art Project
Chapter 13: The End of an Era
In Belle Baranceanu: Life, Art and the New Deal Renaissance, historian Jennifer Hernandez has created a sweeping new look at the role of art, religion, politics, gender equity and social norms in America through the life and art of Belle Baranceanu, a name unfamiliar to most Americans, yet one who deserves recognition as a prominent 20th century feminist artist. Belle’s story is an American story – from her Jewish family fleeing Eastern Europe – to settling in the American Midwest to finally heading west and Belle settling in San Diego – all in search of a better life and to practice her art and earn a living. Belle’s works speak of personal tragedy and triumph and how the larger forces of the Great Depression set America in a new direction. Hernandez writes eloquently with a style that non historians will find engaging and her scholarship provides new insights into this critical time in American Art and social history that raises important parallels between art and society then, and today.
A mid-century female artist, Belle Baranceanu leveraged her Jewish immigrant background to produce socially conscious art at the start of America’s modernist movement. Her story helps us understand the importance of federal programs such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in advancing modern art during the 1930s. It also sheds light on the personal struggles faced by women in Southern California’s rapidly developing art scene.
This reverence is also evident in “Belle Baranceanu: Life, Art, and the New Deal Renaissance,” Hernandez’s definitive and deftly researched biography of the artist and the time period of the Great Depression…It’s easy to see in Hernandez’s book how these events, taken together, may have helped shape and transform Baranceanu’s personal and artistic outlook. Even before relocating to San Diego in 1933 — where she primarily lived for the rest of her life as both an educator and working artist — her paintings, portraits and murals subtly explored issues of labor, feminism and class inequality…Hernandez also does well to set the scene of each chapter, with rich descriptions of early 20th-century Chicago, the stark plains of North Dakota and Depression-era San Diego.”
9/10/2023: San Diego Union Tribune: