The following is a guest post by Katherine Blood, Curator of Fine Prints, who co-curated the exhibition with Sara Duke, Curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Arts:
When exhorted by Charles Dana Gibson to “draw ‘til it hurts!” hundreds of his fellow artists contributed over 1,400 designs, including some 700 posters, to promote the country’s war effort to the American public–from recruitment and troop support, to bond drives and home front service. As head of the U.S. government Division of Pictorial Publicity, Gibson mobilized artists behind the war effort in an unprecedented manner. The Library’s new exhibition World War I: American Artists View the Great War includes stellar examples by participating artists as well as works created by independent or commercial creators.
We chose James Montgomery Flagg’s indelible Uncle Sam as the exhibit’s signature image. Made famous during World War I, it has continued to be a visual and cultural reference point ever since.
Gibson himself, the leader of the artist “battalion,” is represented by this drawing which features a chilling personification of war as an emaciated femme fatale–a far cry from his wholesome Gibson Girl prototype.
Edward Penfield’s vibrant drawing, on the left, of doughboys, American Expeditionary Forces infantrymen, with a machine gun was published as a Collier’s magazine cover. The Camp Library Is Yours–Read to Win the War by Charles Buckles Falls, on the right, reflects the efforts of the American Library Association (ALA) to furnish troops with a reported 10 million books and magazines at camp libraries at home and abroad. The Library of Congress is a fitting venue to showcase this classic poster as ALA’s Library War Service Committee was directed by then Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam.
As the United States approaches the hundred-year anniversary of its entry into the war, my co-curator Sara Duke and I had the chance to comb through thousands of original images to choose the strongest work to represent the American experience of World War I. With a conscious emphasis on artist-eye-views, we were struck by the power of these artworks to visually communicate complex content in immediate, visceral ways. War correspondent artist Samuel Woolf’s eye-witness images of soldiers include a drawing, below left, of an anguished doughboy carrying a wounded comrade is a moving example.
In addition to posters, prints, and drawings, our deep holdings of World War I photographs offered further riches. Sara notes: “Although I am not a photography curator, I discovered many images that stand on their own as fine art but were produced and intended to document the war.” Among our favorites is Lewis Hine’s Red Cross postwar portrait of an African American veteran, below right, which takes an artful approach to documentation.
This special exhibition is online and will be on display from May 7, 2016 to May 6, 2017 in the Graphic Arts Galleries of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building. Drawn from over 76,000 pictures relating to World War I in the Library’s Prints & Photographs Division collections, a compelling selection of 52 original posters, cartoons, fine art prints, drawings, and photographs are being shown in two different presentations with the second on view starting October 31, 2016. An additional 63 scanned photographs, many from fragile glass negatives, will be available in a gallery slide show and online.
- Visit the exhibition World War I: American Artists View the Great War in-person at the Library of Congress for the next year or online.
- View some 1,900 posters created between 1914 and 1920 in the Prints & Photographs Division’s collection of World War I Posters. Compelling visual works produced during the war demonstrate the ability of posters to inspire, inform, and persuade employing the diversity of vibrant design trends ongoing at that time.
- Consult World War I in Pictures: An Overview of Prints & Photographs Division Collections to learn about pictorial holdings in a wide array of formats, including photographic prints and negatives, cartoons, ephemera, posters and drawings.