Howard Chandler Christy, 1873-1952
I Want You for the Navy, 1917
Lithograph on paper, 41 1/2 in. x 27 1/4 in.
Gift of John and Beverly Watling

Patriotic Persuasion: American Posters of the First World War

January 20, 2018 - June 3, 2018

Patriotic Persuasion: American Posters of the First World War features a selection of works donated to the Bruce Museum by Beverly and John W. Watling III.

The United States involvement in World War I lasted only a brief twenty months, from April 1917 to November 1918, but the nation’s military and propaganda strategies were of enormous consequence. 

The variety of approaches which government agencies used to encourage wide-spread participation in the war effort was impressive, from the allure of artist Howard Chandler Christie’s young woman who, in a1917 poster, seductively proclaimed, “I WANT YOU FOR THE NAVY,” to the inquisitional tone of a war loan poster of the next year: “Are you 100% American? Prove it! Buy U.S. Government Bonds.” In the era of radio and film’s infancy, posters remained an essential medium for the public’s dreamlife, capable of nightmarish manipulation: in one of the iconic wartime posters from the Watling donation, artist Joseph Pennell in 1918 powerfully imagined a partially destroyed Statue of Liberty and New York City aflame in the background, with the plea, “That Liberty Shall Not Perish from the Earth/Buy Liberty Bonds/Fourth Liberty Loan.”

Featuring these works, as well as numerous other posters that combine image and text in ingenious, surprising, and sometimes disturbing combination, “Patriotic Persuasion” marks the centennial of American participation in the First World War. It is organized by Kenneth E. Silver, Bruce Museum Adjunct Curator of Art and Elizabeth Smith, Zvi Grunberg Resident Fellow at the Bruce Museum (2017-2018).  

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