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Roosevelt Public School, Roosevelt, New Jersey

A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experiemental utopias in america".

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  • A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experiemental utopias in america".


June 2005


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


Currently Off View


Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


Roosevelt Public School, Roosevelt, New Jersey


United States (Artist's nationality)


Made 2005


Chromogenic print, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experiemental Utopias in America"


No markings recto or verso A wave of Jewish emigration from crowded tenements in crowded cities to the countryside occurred in the 1930s, when the vicissitudes of the Great Depression led to the creation of rural cooperatives across the country—including the Jersey Homesteads, about sixty miles from New York City. The members of the community also built a cooperatives garment factory; Benjamin Brown, the “father” of the Jersey Homesteads, hoped that a better life for community members could be structured around work on a self-sustaining farm in the growing season, combined with winter employment in the garment factory. This mural, created by the soon-to-be-renowned artist Ben Shahn, traces the story of the Jersey Homesteads in three panels, from the arrival of immigrants at Ellis Island, to the planning of the cooperative community, to the movement from the city to the simple but light-filled homes in the countryside. Early supporters of the community, including Albert Einstein and the painter Raphael Soyer, are also depicted. After completing the mural in 1938, Shahn and his wife Bernada decided to become residents themselves. For a while it worked. Two hundred homes were built, exciting ideas clashed at town meetings, and other artists followed Soyer and Shahn, until the small town had a remarkable number of painters, poets, weavers and potters. But the agricultural cooperative failed as it was discovered that there were no true farmers among the urban pioneers. And the factory became a button-making facility—the garment trade is always a risky business, but particularly so at the height of the Depression. Jersey Homesteads was renamed “Roosevelt” shortly after World War II. Bit by bit, the elements of communalism disappeared, except for the ongoing Roosevelt Arts Project (RAP), begun in 1986 by Bernada Shahn and the artist Jacob Landau, among others. RAP is dedicated to bringing together artists in a variety of media, to foster collaboration and present experimental work to the public. Thus at Roosevelt, of which it was said, “if there were two people in the room, there were three opinions,” a measure of true community has finally been achieved—just not in the fields or the town hall. From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


Image: 26.5 × 33.2 cm (10 7/16 × 13 1/8 in.); Paper: 27.9 × 35.5 cm (11 × 14 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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