"Ralph Fasanella: The Art of Social Engagement" at AFL-CIO Lobby Wednesday, May 21

Artist Ralph Fasanella spent his career capturing the plight of the American worker. But he didn’t just paint images of blue-collar workers—he was one of them. He drove trucks, acted as a union organizer—hell, the guy was even born on Labor Day 1914. The Smithsonian American Art Museum is currently exhibiting a selection of 19 Fasanella paintings and focuses on his craft, but a complementary exhibit at the AFL-CIO’s headquarters places equal emphasis on his social activism and others’ reactions to it. He had a tendency to ruffle feathers: “Lawrence, 1912: The Great Strike,” a painting chronicling striking textile workers in Massachusetts, hung in a House of Representatives hearing room for years, but its pro-union sentiment led Republican leaders to remove it in 1994. For political art that exercises restraint while maintaining a progressive message, Fasanella can’t be beat. The exhibition is on view Mondays through Fridays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to Aug. 1, at the AFL-CIO Lobby, 815 16th St. NW. Free. aflcio.org.

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