This past week I was in Hamilton, Ontario with my son visiting the Warplane Heritage Museum. As has been the case for me this year, while embarking on my daily blog project, I have been tuned in more acutely to the presence of art around me in my day. A visit to a museum dedicated to warplanes seems like an unlikely place to find art, right? Well…
It so happens that the museum has an excellent collection of World War Two era propaganda posters. The graphic style of the artwork from that era is something that has filtered into our popular culture. It was used to great effect in the wonderful credits at the end the first Captain America movie. What is often overlooked is the artistry of those posters. Real artists created those posters. Of course, the posters were made and mass produced in order to spur the public on in support of the war effort. But that can’t take away from the quality of the images and the creativity of the artists.
I present below a gallery of the posters on display at the museum. I’ve decided to include some of the museum’s descriptions as I found them helpful and enlightening. I was particularly impressed by the posters criticized in their day, dubbed the “blonde bombshell” and the “Russianized young lady”. So many of these images seem to predate the graphic art style of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, not to mention an army of super-hero comic illustrators. The name Abram Games pops up a lot in this gallery, perhaps he needs to be given his due.
To begin, here is the museum’s description of the collection:
In a time where the internet and social media were not even words in the dictionary, posters were a popular form of communication. The Bureau of Public Information and later the Wartime Information Board (WIB) undertook an extensive propaganda campaign to generate support for the war. Each poster was created by an artist to entice the general public through colour, composition and design to become engaged in the war effort at hand. Posters were the ideal mode of conveying messages because they were relatively inexpensive to produce, they could be designed, printed and distributed in a relatively short period of time and they were visually stimulating. Recruitment and propaganda posters were printed in a wide variety of sizes and could be hung on anything from billboards, shop windows to theatres and even on buses and streetcars. The images made a statement without too many words or phrases, making an immediate impact on people’s values and attitudes. After their main purpose was fulfilled in the 1940’s, we were left with works of art which tell the story of Canada’s journey to make the ultimate sacrifice during one of the country’s most historically important time periods.
Poster printed in London in 1944 at the behest of the Polish government in exile when the assumption was the war would be over by Christmas… (Keely) envisions a victory parade route, brilliantly hung with allied flags, doubling as a ghostly crusaders sword with the welcoming Dutch soldier standing at the crossroads. The allies as modern crusaders was an omnipresent theme during the war… An ingenious and joyful design that unfortunately, could not be used until the spring of 1945.
The representation of women in posters aroused considerable controversy during the 1939-45 war, notably over the use of glamour… In 1941 a major recruiting campaign for the ATS was immediately criticized for making its girls too glamourous. The poster, nicknamed the “blond bombshell” had to be withdrawn and replaced by a poster using a photo of a real ATS private… In 1942, Games designed a second ATS poster with what was described as a “slightly Russianized young lady”.
This was the last Games’ war poster. After VE Day the war office destroyed all remaining award winning Abram Games posters.