Special Exhibitions


THE WINDS AND WORDS OF WAR

 

WORLD WAR I POSTERS AND PRINTS

FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE SAN ANTIONIO PUBLIC LIBRARY

 

16. März bis 7. Mai 2017

 

»I Want You For US Army« - this slogan paired with Uncle Sam's grim glare has been a hallmark of popular culture ever since it first appeared on a recruitment poster for the U.S. Army in 1917. The special exhibition The Winds And Words Of War commemorates the centennial of America's entry into World War I and sheds light on the compelling stories behind 40 iconic recruitment posters. For the first time, visitors outside the United States will be able to experience their potency at the museum THE KENNEDYS.

 

 

Created between 1917 and 1918, these placards were the cornerstones of the biggest propaganda campaign the U.S. government had ever initiated. The intention was to convince Americans that entering the war was nothing short of a necessity. At the same time, the posters had to lure as many young capable men into recruitment offices as possible.

 

 

This huge campaign effort was necessary for two main reasons: until 1916, America’s foreign policy was characterized by an unwillingness to interfere with European affairs. Additionally, at the beginning of the war, the United States was on the cusp of becoming the world’s leading economic power, taking over from Great Britain. Consequently, trying to convince Americans in 1917 that joining the allies in the war was necessary was, to quote President Woodrow Wilson, an »Herculean task.« Their support was indispensable – the US Army had a mere 110,000 soldiers at the ready, a number almost laughable in comparison to the millions of soldiers fighting in European armies.

 

 

It was for this very reason that the Committee on Public Confirmation was founded in 1917. It brought together America’s leading graphic designers and let them contribute to gearing up the population for war using images and words. Particularly interesting to note is the large variety of addressees and themes depicted in the posters: young men, housewives, farmers, and Jewish Americans – to mention only a few – were being courted with many different opportunities to get involved in the war effort. The fruits of the artists’ labor can be appreciated in this special exhibition.

 

 

A tour of the exhibition also offers visitors a glimpse into the state of poster art right before the breakthrough of a new generation of mass media: radio and television. In 1917, posters were at the height of their power as the single most effective and powerful channel for distributing information. Allison Hays-Lane, the curator of the exhibition, observes rather aptly that »these posters were the social media of their time.«

 

 

The second part of the exhibition is dedicated to the vital role of the city of San Antonio during World War I; historical photographs and the documentary »Wings« show a rapidly changing and growing city. Far away from the war-torn trenches of Europe in the military camps surrounding San Antonio, young men were trained and drilled to join the war overseas. The black and white photographs open up a new perspective on a well-known part of history.

©San Antonio Public Library Foundation/ CAMERA WORK
©San Antonio Public Library Foundation/ CAMERA WORK

©San Antionio Public Library Foundation
©San Antionio Public Library Foundation

©San Antonio Public Library Foundation
©San Antonio Public Library Foundation