The Revolutionary Artists of Chicago’s John Reed Club, News for 1931 from The New Masses.
The Palm Group of Chicago. January, 1931.
The Palm Group, (League of Proletarian artists, writers, musicians, etc.) though organized only a couple months ago, has already established itself in the Left wing movement of Chicago and vicinity. Membership is growing rapidly, and increasing demands are being made upon us by the workers groups for many of whom Palm has supplied programs, entertainment, and always a brief talk on the purposes of Palm and the role of revolutionary culture. Briefly, these are our latest steps:
1. Formation of a Blue Blouse Group (The first one in the U. S. to our knowledge) organized and at work.
2. A huge affair to be put over in February by the combined worked cultural forces of Chicago (We have organizations like the Workers Studio, Ballet, Symphony Orchestra, Hungarian Orchestra, Freiheit Mandolin Orchestra and Singing Society and many individual artists and groups.)
3. — An International Orchestra composed of the best forces of the worked orchestras in Chicago.
4. — Establish a Lecture Bureau for spreading proletarian culture.
5. — Arrange our first combined Art Exhibit of the work of New Masses artists which you are preparing for us (give us the best you have, comrades!) together with our own artists of Chicago. When ready, this will be held in a suitable hall or at our own Workers Book Shop, with an opening program arranged by Palm.
There is a lot of work to be done yet, and we are determined to carry on with all the combined energy of our forces. With comradely greetings to the John Reed Club of New York and all other proletarian groups in the growing workers cultural movement. Fraternally, Chicago, III. A. LEBEDINSK.
Chicago Exhibit. February, 1931.
The Palm Club of proletarian artists and writers will hold an art exhibition and dance on February 27 at the Peoples Auditorium, 2457 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago. The exhibit, arranged by Comrade Jan Wittenber, will consist of drawings and paintings by New Masses artists and members of the John Reed Club of New York, along with the work of a number of Chicago painters of note. A new collection of posters from Soviet Russia will be included. The exhibit will also be on view at the Workers Book Store, 2021 West Division Street, Chicago, under the direction of S.H. Hammersmark.
Chicago Report. April, 1931.
On February 28, at the People’s Auditorium, the former Palm Club, now the John Reed Club of Chicago, gave its first exhibit of revolutionary drawings, cartoons, paintings and sculpture in a joint exhibit of the Chicago John Reed Club, the John Reed Club of New York and the New Masses. Over 43 artists, painters and sculptors were included. The evening of the exhibit was also given to a program of song, dance and music. The Chicago artists, some of whom are already known to New Masses readers included Jan Wittenber, Burr, Lebedinsky, Rose, Barton, Mishell, Weiner, Torres, Van Young, Weisenborn and others.
The worker audience, asked to vote on their choice of the best work in the exhibit, voted for the work of Ivors Rose, a new member of the John Reed Club. The vote was taken through a space allotted for it in the program. Painting No. 209 in the exhibit, to be awarded, was by vote of the audience, given to the Daily Worker, since the worker chosen was not present. The program of the evening presided over by the artist, Jan Wittenber, who made the opening address, included the Artes Orchestra, led by G. Hairtowich, the Scandinavian Workers Sextet, coached by Harry Anderson, the Artes Ballet led by Wozansky, a vocal solo by R. Rubin, the Blue Blouse Dancers, directed by Lydia Esaeva, and Build Blues staged by the Blue Blouses. Max Appleman gave a reading.
The program and exhibit took on an international aspect with the inclusion of Negro, Japanese and Chinese workers. The evening the first of its kind presented in Chicago, was voted by the audience unanimously as a huge success and the John Reed Club of Chicago is now making preparations for another affair in the near future. JOHN REED CLUB OF CHICAGO.
Chicago John Reed Club. August, 1931.
The John Reed Club of Chicago failed in some of its major plans, because the Chicago Workers Cultural League, which it helped organize, functioned weakly; and we were not certain of our direction. Then, out of a blue sky, in the call for the formation of the N.Y. Federation, published in the June issue of New Masses, we are given credit for being the first to get into action on such a project altho we had no representation at the Kharkov Conference. Believe us, we can’t appreciate the publication of this fact enough. It has put new life in our League and the John Reed Club. We know now we were on the right road.
A few things the JRC has done: our artists did the cartoon posters for the May 1 demonstration; we also had a float of our own. We were well represented on Youth Day in Milwaukee, Wis. For the July 4 picnic in Chicago, the Blue Blouses group fell down by notifying us on the day before that they could not get up the promised stage sketches on the Scottsboro Case and the Miners Strike. We took this up as a challenge, wrote the sketches, presented them after two rehearsals and got a fine reception. Our success has helped to stir up the Blue Blouse Group who are now getting into stride again. We had an art and literature booth at the picnic realizing some needed funds for the Communist Party. Our group now has about 50 members. We are getting them more interested thru active participation in the struggle: the only way to stir their emotions, to give their creative work a proletarian spontaneity, strength and appeal that so confounds the mystics and the form seekers.
Literature selling, tho not most important, is given close attention. In the last month, I alone got a dozen subs for New Masses from gas station attendants, clerks, etc. Got 50 subs for the Daily Worker since January 1; and I personally account for 25 copies of the New Pioneer every month. Not only I, but others in the club get more solid satisfaction out of this kind of work, and more healthy conclusions than a hundred essays on esthetics could have given us. That’s why we feel that the bundle of 300 copies of New Masses that we sell every month is not near enough.
We arranged an impromptu meeting for Seki Sano, director of the Left Theatre of Tokyo on his way thru Chicago. On July 25, we called a conference to appeal to workers, students and intellectuals to participate in the August 1 anti-war demonstration. We are invading the university campus at Chicago U., Northwesten U., Crane Tech, and Loyola. Meanwhile we plan big things for the midwest issue of New Masses on which you promise co-operation. We’ll do our best, get the right material, raise the funds and give it a real distribution.
You’ll hear from us again. JOHN REED CLUB OF CHICAGO Organization Secretary.
CHICAGO John Reed Club October, 1931.
The John Reed Club of Chicago, is arranging thru its plastics fraction for exhibitions in three forms in the coming season. The first exhibit is to be an open all Chicago exhibit which will begin October 31st in conjunction with the John Reed Club Ball. The second to be a Chicago John Reed Club International Exhibit sometime in January. The third to take on the form of travelling exhibits to be circulated in various workers’ centers. Altho the first exhibit is an open mid-west show it is of the greatest advantage that a sizable section be devoted to American left plastics, with unattached sympathetic artists to contribute works.
The fraction has lately been activized to contribute to our revolutionary press. Special measures have been taken to send contributions to the New Masses , Daily Worker and Young Pioneer. Every member of the fraction is to be a contributor to the revolutionary press at least once a month. Classes for adults and also classes for children, arranged cooperatively with the Young Pioneers, are to be started in the near future.
For all information: exhibit blanks, circulars, etc., correspond with secretary of Plastic Fraction; or send works before October 28th, to John Reed Club — Plastics Fraction, 3226 S. Lake Park Avenue, Chicago. Help us make this first exhibit the largest display of left wing art in the Midwest. JOHN REED CLUB— CHICAGO Plastics Fraction, M. SIPORIN, Secretary.
Chicago Blue Blouse. October, 1931.
Comrades of New Masses: The Chicago Blue Blouse Theatre, now with three functioning groups in the field, was organized about 10 months ago. It began as a simple Workers Theatre, intending the production of full length plays. Since there were other groups in the field doing this, and there was need of an agitational theatrical group presenting one-act plays, skits, recitations, etc. in an informal manner at meetings, demonstrations and all working class affairs, we soon changed to this purpose.
We are working closely with the John Reed Club. They have furnished us with directors, material, etc. We have presented mass chants, pantomimes, recitations, a one-act play Doctor Medicine, the first act of The Belt, etc. This winter, having the benefit of a season’s work to guide us, we want to expand. Our plans call for more members. We ap- peal thru New Masses to all Chicago workers: come and join us. It doesn’t matter if you had no previous theatrical experience.
To other groups we appeal for exchange of experience, plays, etc. Address: Blue Blouse Dramatic Studio, Helen Kirshman, secretary, 3644 W. 15 St., Chicago, Illinois.
CHICAGO —John Reed Club. December, 1931.
On the 16 of October, the John Reed Club of Chicago held a John Reed Anniversary meeting at the Peoples Auditorium, filled to capacity with a worker audience. The feature of the meeting was the presentation of Dead Soldiers Live — a ballet performed to the rhythms of a mass chant. The Red Ballet, the Engels Club and the Blue Blouses, took part. The chant was written and directed by Max Appelman. The Ballet was conceived and directed by Nathan Vizonsky. The costumes and masks were designed by Mitchel Siporin, whose work is already well known to readers of New Masses. The whole production was received with such enthusiasm it was given again at the anniversary of the Russian Revolution at the Coliseum on November 7.
On October 31, the Chicago JRC held its second annual exhibit, of nearly 100 paintings and drawings. This year there was a Jury of Three Artists: Mitchel Siporin, Gilbert Rocke and Jan Wittenber. Preceding the showing of the exhibit at various Workers Clubs a show was held at the 90 & 9 Galleries in the business section, where it was also well attended by workers. Some of the John Reed Artists of Chicago, including Rocke and Wittenber, are also represented in the 44th Annual Exhibit of the Art Institute of Chicago. JOHN REED CLUB of Chicago.
Frederick Engels Club. December, 1931.
The Frederick Engels Club of Chicago, a group of young workers and students, was organized about two months ago. We are an active group participating in campaigns of the communist movement, contributing towards it financially as well as partaking in demonstrations mass chants and organizational work.
Our aim is to study Proletarian and Communist culture and for this purpose we have set aside one evening a week, Monday evening. We have already studied The Communist Manifesto and are now studying Socialism, Utopian and Scientific by Frederic Engels. Next we plan to study Value, Price & Profit and Pro- gramme of the Communist International. On Thursday evenings we hold our business and discussion meetings. The subjects of our discussions have been of a political and economic nature. These meetings are of great interest and are attended with enthusiasm.
At present our club consists of sixteen members, but we hope to grow and to expand. We wish to cooperate with similar groups. The Frederick Engels Club, invites all young workers and students to visit us at the Young Workers’ Center, 1224 So. Albany Avenue, Chicago, 111., on Monday or Thursday evening. Chicago, III. OLGA SIEGEL. Chairman Contact Committee.
The New Masses was the continuation of Workers Monthly which began publishing in 1924 as a merger of the ‘Liberator’, the Trade Union Educational League magazine ‘Labor Herald’, and Friends of Soviet Russia’s monthly ‘Soviet Russia Pictorial’ as an explicitly Communist Party publication, but drawing in a wide range of contributors and sympathizers. In 1927 Workers Monthly ceased and The New Masses began. A major left cultural magazine of the late 1920s and early 1940s, the early editors of The New Masses included Hugo Gellert, John F. Sloan, Max Eastman, Mike Gold, and Joseph Freeman. Writers included William Carlos Williams, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Day, John Breecher, Langston Hughes, Eugene O’Neill, Rex Stout and Ernest Hemingway. Artists included Hugo Gellert, Stuart Davis, Boardman Robinson, Wanda Gag, William Gropper and Otto Soglow. Over time, the New Masses became narrower politically and the articles more commentary than comment. However, particularly in it first years, New Masses was the epitome of the era’s finest revolutionary cultural and artistic traditions.