Mildred Elfman Greenberg (1912 - 2003) was an American visual artist recognized for her contributions to the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.). She has works purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, British Museum, The Wolfsonian in Miami, and other private collections. Greenberg is also included in “Archives of American Art” at the Smithsonian and has endowed the Philadelphia Free Library and Ethical Society with various prints from this era. Over the years, her work was shown in many group exhibitions, including the 1941 World’s Fair in New York and the State Museum in Harrisburg in 1991.
As a young woman she attended what is now known as Moore College of Art & Design from 1931 - 1934 on full scholarship. While majoring in fashion illustration, her passion for drawing grew and she began reverting back to her love of classical rendering. After graduation, she enrolled at the Barnes Foundation and was introduced to the concept of modern art. Studying painters such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse, Greenberg was able to hone a style of her own combining the use of bold color with elements of collage and applied these principles within a cubist, expressionistic or fauve methodology.
In 1940, Greenberg was accepted into the Works Progress Administration's Easel Project by portfolio. The Easel Project’s Fine Print Workshop distinguished itself both for its racial inclusiveness and technical experimentation with the medium. Here Greenberg made work alongside African-American artist Dox Thrash (co-inventor of the Carborundum-Mezzotint printing process).
Reflecting upon her experience she states, “It was a good opportunity to grow -- even though I was not a realistic painter. My works were still accepted and displayed.” She defines her adulthood by three experiences that ultimately shaped her life. At Moore, she was taught discipline and hard work, while the W.P.A. grounded her political awareness and the Barnes Foundation identified the aspect of “plasticity” which, she explains, is the creative process of all work in technique and design.
Years later, she returns to Philadelphia further developing her passion for interior design. Greenberg returned to Moore College of Art where she was encouraged to experiment with found objects, sculpture and airbrush techniques by Harry Anderson, Chuck Fahlen and Victor Carlson. At this time, her work begins to reflect bigger political issues and her commitment as a woman artist.
Her first solo show, Zero Gravitation and Levitation was exhibited at the Painted Bride Art Center in 1982. Themes of space exploration, concerns about nuclear annihilation and her obsession with dinosaurs begin to appear, leading up to her 1984 exhibition Ice Age to Space Age. The culminations of works from this series are depicted in a neo-expressionist manner, and are often rendered in a raw or brutish style. Greenberg began creating works chronicling astrological and mythological imagery opposed to the modernist who rejected the idea of story-telling.
In 2000, Greenberg was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, When Reason Dreams. Her 1983 piece Space Age: Radio/Telescope first presented in the Ice Age to Space Age series was displayed amongst artists such as Jess, Goya, Blake and many other notable artists from the PMA’s permanent collections.