The voices of students mingling permeated the South Gallery of the Ben Shahn Center for Visual Arts last Wednesday. Three American flags draped elegantly from the ceiling. Guitar music played softly throughout the space where a new exhibit, For Home and Country, was on display.
Students and faculty alike walked the gallery admiring original propaganda posters from World War I. Calls to action such as “Buy war bonds!” or “You can help!” put viewers in the shoes of United States citizens in 1917.
The year 2017 marks one hundred years since the United States’ involvement in World War I. In commemoration, 26 propaganda posters from the Newark Public Library are being showcased in the South Gallery in the Ben Shahn building until December 13th. The exhibition, For Home and Country, is curated by George Robb, a William Paterson professor and a scholar of the first World War.
“World War I is the first war where governments really used propaganda,” said Professor Robb. “Governments used it to get people to do what they believed was in their best interest.”
Many of the posters in the exhibit portray the ideal American, doing all they can to help the men fighting overseas. One poster in particular reads, “You came here seeking freedom, you must now help to preserve it.”, which is in regards to the immigrants living in the United States.
“World War I was a very hard time for immigrants because a lot of people felt that they weren’t true Americans.”, said Robb. “A lot of pressure was put on them to prove themselves.”
Strolling along the gallery and sharing knowledge with viewers was historian Erik Burro from Burlington, NJ, an expert on World War I sculptures.
“It’s nice to see all these posters together in one place with such fantastic descriptions and information.”, said Burro. “Definitely worth the hour long drive!”
Among the posters is I Want You for U.S. Army by James Montgomery Flagg which features Uncle Sam in a top hat, pointing his finger at the viewer.
“It’s one of the most famous images in the entire world today. Lots of people use it for lots of different kinds of things. I was just driving in Bloomfield and saw a recruitment center that had it hanging on the window. It’s a piece that is still used today and will be forever, probably.”, said Professor Robb.
For Home and Country will be showcased in the South Gallery in the Ben Shahn building until December 13th. Throughout the months there will be a series of lectures on the different perspectives during the war. On October 4th, Professor Robb will be a doing a lecture named Artists at War. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free.