“Paper Wars” at International Poster Gallery
World War I was the first conflict in which the illustrated color lithographic poster was used as a means of propaganda. Already used in the world of commerce, travel, and entertainment before the war, illustrated posters provided an established and effective medium for propaganda delivery. With the outbreak of World War II, combatants once again pressed the poster into service, this time highlighting the conflict’s polarizing ideological struggle that pitted Fascism and Totalitarianism against Democracy.
Highlighting the show’s fine selection of recruitment posters is Howard Chandler Christy’s 1918 call for naval recruits. The poster’s subject, a smiling woman in a low-cut United States Navy uniform, is accompanied by the text “Gee!! I wish I were a man. I’d join the Navy”. Supplementary text at the bottom of the poster urged the viewer to “Be a man and do it”, directing them to a local navy recruiting station. Posters that appealed to period ideals of masculinity were quite popular and effective recruitment tools, often combining patriotic sentiment with sexually charged imagery for maximum effect.
A counterpoint to Christy’s naval recruitment poster is Adolf Treidler’s 1918 design for the YWCA. The poster highlights the emergence of the female work force during the First World War, stating “For every fighter, a woman worker.” Women played an invaluable role in both World Wars, supplementing the sudden absence of their male counterparts in the workplace to assist in the war effort, most notably in the industrial sector. The YWCA advocated for women’s rights in the workplace, limiting lengthy shifts, prohibiting night work and facilitating the organization of labor unions.
Lending his iconic and undeniably American style to the war effort, Normal Rockwell also participated in the United States propaganda machine with his 1943 “Four Freedoms” series. The series was inspired by a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which he described four principles for universal rights: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship and Freedom from Fear. The United States Department of the Treasure used Rockwell’s paintings to promote the sale of war bonds, debt securities issued by the government to finance military operations during times of war. Rockwell himself considered “Freedom of Speech” to be the best of the four, an example of which is featured in the exhibition.
The show also features Joseph Leyendecker’s war bonds “Weapons for Liberty” campaign sponsored by Boy Scouts of America; Lucian Bernhard’s 1918 German World War I poster depicting an imposing iron fist; and Jack Campbell’s virulent 1942 “Tokio Kid”, a fine period example of the use of racial caricature to demonize the enemy.
Editor’s Note: • Background and additional digital color images available.
• Support for feature development on poster collecting available.
• Interviews with gallery owner Jim Lapides are encouraged.
In addition to gallery shows and special exhibitions, IPG’s award-winning website, www.internationalposter.com offers the largest, most comprehensive online collection of vintage advertising posters in the world. Originally launched in 1998, the site contains nearly 4,500 images accessible through a powerful search engine.
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