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Art for the Nation

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contributed by Chris Della Rocco

During World Wars I and II, the American homefront endured extraordinary circumstances and sacrifices in order to help achieve victory. Mobilizing for war was a massive undertaking that required the coordination of all government, military, industrial, agricultural and civilian entities. To help spread the word as to what was asked of Americans, the government under President Woodrow Wilson and the Committee of Public Information, organized political slogans and linked them to illustrations that became timeless works of art. In a new exhibit at the Indiana State Museum, Art for the Nation displays these posters and illustrations so visitors can view and relive memories of a time when everyone came together for the good of the country.

Illustrations were used to help Americans understand the necessity for war, to encourage sacrifice and thrift, as well as reinforce the need to work and fight harder all while enhancing moral. “Whether seen as government propaganda or patriotic art, the positive and negative images of the war posters helped motivate a diverse citizenry into a collective fighting whole,” curator Katherine Gould explained.

Posters represented a source of information on the contributing efforts of the home front during wartime. Along with being strategically placed in government buildings, schools, lobbies, parks and other common, public areas, they were also visually stunning to help reach out to large, diverse audiences and grab people’s attention.

“While posters would have been placed in public areas, newspapers, church sermons and during WWII, radio also communicated these messages. Times were different and the government had to get their messages across,” said Gould.

“Each poster is layered with a cause and effect,” Gould explained.

For instance, posters that suggested recycling old rubber-soled shoes may be good for the environment but the scarce rubber was needed to help make tires for military vehicles overseas. Other posted called for citizens to make community gardens. Not was it a good way to save money and bring neighborhoods together, but also helped bigger farming operations ensure enough food was being sent to soldiers and American allies.

Posters could be viewed as a success in Indiana. Hoosier actress Carole Lombard came to Indianapolis for the first ever war bond rally for WWII. Hoosiers would later have invested more than $500 million to help fund the wars through such efforts. Recruiting posters helped 130,670 Hoosiers find careers in the military during World War I and more than 340,000 men and women served during World War II.

Posters, from the collection of the Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis Public Library and the American Legion, will be separated into six themes and then broken down into sub-sections and themes to illustrate the different meanings and efforts behind each poster.

“We hope this exhibit will get people to think about the relationship between art, politics and propaganda,” Gould explained. “I’m very excited about this exhibit. A lot of research has gone into it.”

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