A collection of rare vintage poster art including recruiting, propaganda and home front morale images from World Wars I and II on display at the Frontiers of Flight Museum commemorates the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. The collection, accumulated over several decades by attorney Rogge Dunn, and can be viewed through Jan. 31.
The exhibit enables viewers to experience the atmosphere and attitudes of the war generations and gives viewers a feel for the war-time sacrifices made by civilians. The display includes more than three dozen works of graphic and rare art from France, Germany, England, Russia and the United States, which highlight significant aspects of world history.
“The exhibit is unique and different, and yet it’s the perfect time for us because it is the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of WWI,” said Cheryl Sutterfield-Jones, Chief Executive Officer, Frontiers of Flight Museum. “The posters are thought-provoking. It is important for us to think about WWI and see what was going on at that time.
“The posters are also from different countries. I think the biggest shock for me was to see some propaganda posters against the Americans. It really gives you that feeling of turmoil, and the experience of thinking critically about the war.
“For us, it’s a patriotic time as we think about WWI and the suffering people went through without any of the modern technology we have today,” she said.
Dunn’s collection of propaganda art combines his love of history, rhetoric and the art of persuasion.
“WWI was the first war that the saw major use of propaganda posters,” said Bruce Bleakley, Director of the Frontiers of Flight Museum. “That is why this is such an interesting collection. Although some of them have an aeronautical flavor to them, they all concern trying to get the viewer to see a certain point of view on this particular side of the war whether it’s enlisting, buying bonds or making sure you’re doing whatever you can do to support defeating the enemy. Some warn against talking too much about when a certain ship is going to leave port. That was also a big part of propaganda posters; the idea of ‘loose lips sink ships,’ and ‘the walls have ears.’”
While attending the London School of Economics, Dunn’s interest in propaganda posters was sparked by a ‘simple but powerful poster’ warning people about the dangers of unattended packages in the subways. At the time, the Irish Republican Army had exploded package bombs London subways.
“Ever since then, I’ve been collecting and traveling the world trying to find interesting posters that not only tell a story, but exhibit creativity in the art and persuasion they use,” Dunn said. “Back in the time before radio, television and the Internet, posters were one of the most powerful ways messages through advertising were communicated. There really were no billboards, so people would make these big posters and put them on the sides of buildings, and that was the general way of getting the message out to the public.
“As a matter of fact, a revolutionary Russia, something like only 20 percent of the populace could read. So they would put posters on trains and bring them through towns to give visual messages to the populace,” he said.
Through his study of propaganda, Dunn has noticed a number of differences between the posters designed for WWI and those designed for WWII.
“Typically, there is more color in WWII posters. In fact, the Russians just used red, white, gray and black generally. WWI posters were typically more abstract than WWII posters. There are more photomontage posters where photographs are incorporated into the posters in WWII than WWI.
“WWII posters are little more vicious and a little more graphic in terms of the horrors of war. I think when WWI started, people were used to the old-time cavalry charges and more of a gentleman’s war so to speak. When pilots were shot down, the victor would tip their wings, treat them with respect and take them to dinner. I think war became of a meat grinding experience in WWII, and there really wasn’t much of a glamorization of war,” he said.
Some posters prominently feature airships.
“The zeppelin was a newfangled thing,” Dunn said. “The military had the airplane, and they also had the zeppelin. Not only was the zeppelin a weird device from their perspective, but it also actually did bombings. It did more to terrorize the population than effective strategic bombing. Zeppelins were something the public was scared of.”
Dunn’s entire collection includes more than 200 posters form more than 20 countries. While researching the topics of his posters, Dunn has learned a variety of things about WWI, WWII and the creation of the posters themselves.
Recently, Dunn’s research led him to learn about the Sullivan brothers. On Jan. 3, 1942, the five Sullivan brothers enlisted in the U.S. Navy requesting that they serve together. All five were assigned to the USS Juneau, which was sunk by Japanese torpedoes on Nov. 13, 1942.
“I think this exhibit is a great chance for all generations to come together and experience what their parents and grandparents went through whether they fought in a war, or supported the war through working hard in production or saving waste fats or conserving energy and resources that could be used towards the war effort. We are so fast paced today, we don’t really stop and think about what our parents and grandparents went through during the war years.
“One of the things I learned from the posters for this exhibit was the total sacrifice the Sullivans made. I knew about the fighting Sullivans, but I always thought they went down with the ship immediately and were lost. When I did the research, because I have never displayed this poster before, I learned three brothers went down with the ship, but two were alive.
“The rescue was delayed because of bad paperwork. Of the 100 people who survived shipwreck, only 10 were rescued. The survivors were out on the ocean for eight days without food or water surrounded by sharks.
“One of the Sullivan brothers died the second day,” Dunn said. “George, the oldest brother, died four days later. He was going around to the rafts crying out for his brothers. He was in delirium, and he said, ‘I’m going to go swim to shore and take a bath.’ He took off his clothes, jumped in the water and a shark got him.
“It made me almost cry when I learned three military officers came up to the Sullivan’s door,” he said. “The father knew they were not bringing good news. The father opened the door, and one of the officers said, ‘I have some news about your sons.’ The father said, ‘which one?’ The officer said, ‘I’m sorry, all five.’
“The brothers enlisted, because their sister was dating a sailor who was killed at Pearl Harbor. They specially requested to be on the same ship.
Afterwards, their sister enlisted to become a recruiter in the naval reserve. She and both her parents spoke at over 200 rallies for production and raising bonds.
When the Navy named a ship after the Sullivan brothers, Al’s son had enlisted in the Navy and served on that ship. So you had the father, the mother, the sister and the sons all involved with the Navy. It’s an amazing story.
“There is a story behind each one of these posters,” Dunn said. “Not simply what they’re portraying but even the artists.
“It’s not in this display. But there is a WWI poster from Great Britain called, ‘Daddy, what did you do in the great war?’ The artist was painting it, and he came home to his wife. He said, ‘what will I ever tell Paul (their son) if I don’t enlist?’ He completed the poster, and the next day he enlisted.
“There is a history between the artist and the visual as well as the people involved.”
Looking at the exhibit brought back memories for Mary Margaret Uhrig. She was a teenager living in Brooklyn, New York when WWII began.
“I lost friends,” Uhrig said. “Especially when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Two of my buddies were on the USS Arizona, so that was tough. We were still very young at that time.
“I came from a German ancestry,” she said. “Everything was rationed. While my mother and I were on line, waiting to get coffee or sugar or butter, some of the neighbors were very hostile. They spit on us, called us all kinds of names, and told us to go back to Germany. That was an experience I have not forgotten.
“I was born in America. My parents were citizens. They had known me since I was born. They knew I was the daughter of German immigrants, but up to that time, we had never thought about it. There were Italians, Irish. There were all kinds of people living in the neighborhood. Everybody was really friendly, and for a city neighborhood, it was very nice. So it was a shock to me.”
Life in the big city was exciting and filled with possibilities for a young lady starting out during the war years.
“As I got older, I went to work at New York life (an insurance company.) I thought that was hot stuff as a young woman just graduating from high school,” Uhrig said. “The only reason I got the job was because all the boys were at the war. They desperately needed people. I started off as a file clerk, and wound up as a department of one in medical records.
“We were asked if anyone would volunteer to sell war bonds. I volunteered, and we would go to the garment district, up at the Lofts. We would give a little spiel about the importance of supporting the war, then we would take applications and money and send them to the government.
“At that time on 42nd St. and Broadway, they built a big stage, and they would ask different celebrities like Clark Gable, Myrna Lloyd, Carol Lombard, and all the great ones at that time would come and encourage people to buy war bonds. Right underneath that, we had little windows like bank tellers. People would come up to us and say they wanted to buy war bonds.
“I remember to this day. This woman asked for $1000 war bond and she took $750 (from her breast pocket) and plunked it down on the table. I had never seen that much money at once. It was an interesting time,” she said.