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Explore World War I propaganda posters online

The Ransom Center recently launched a new platform of digital collections on its website, which includes the World War I poster collection. More than 120 items from that collection, including the posters highlighted in this blog post, can be viewed on the new platform. Some of these posters can also be seen in the current exhibition The World at War 1914–1918.

 

In the era before broadcast radio and television, posters were one of the simplest and most powerful ways to coerce or inform the public. During the First World War, all the major powers produced posters to convey messages rapidly and efficiently. Some of the most successful paired compelling imagery and bright visceral color with appeals to emotion, patriotism, and duty. As an American artist said, “The poster should be to the eye what the command is to the ear.”

 

The Ransom Center’s World War I poster collection illuminates the lived experience of the war from the point of view of everyday people worldwide. Lithographs in English, French, German, and Russian illustrate a wide spectrum of sentiments from military boosterism to appeals for public austerity. (English translations of foreign-language poster titles are available in the description of each item.) The posters document geo-political events and the social and economic transformations set in motion by the war. The role of women, new technologies, international aid, wartime economy, and food supply all feature prominently in the collection.
The majority of the posters in the Center’s collection are authentic lithographs. Discovered in the late eighteenth century, the techniques of lithography reached a golden age during the First World War. In the modern four-color process, combinations of colors are separated using photographic filters into four primary colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. To print lithographs, colored ink is added to printing “stones” in solids and patterns. The ink only adheres to marks on the wet stone made by a greasy crayon. Early lithographs featured simple blocks of solid colors. By the turn of the century, artists harnessed overlay and blending to create more subtle visual effects.

 

The World War I poster collection features many works by notable artists who applied their talents to the war effort. Among them, the French caricaturist Georges Goursat (1863–1934), known as Sem, stands out for his skillful application of lithographic techniques to create sumptuous gradients of color and shadow. His poster Pour la liberté du monde depicts the Statue of Liberty, a gift to the United States from the people of France, appearing on the horizon over the Atlantic Ocean. In the soft pink and yellow sky, a new day is dawning, and Lady Liberty emerges from shadow. It is no coincidence that the French name for the Statue, La Liberté éclairant le monde, translates to “Liberty lighting the world.”

 

Produced in 1917 shortly after the United States entered into the war, Sem’s poster suggests that the American soldiers will turn the tides of battle and bring liberty to Europe. The artist conveys most of his message wordlessly. The text urges support through the purchase of a war bond: For the liberty of the world. Subscribe to the National Loan at the National Credit Bank. Pour la liberté du monde pairs artistry and symbolism to rouse support among the war-fatigued French public.

 

Explore the World War I poster collection to see more examples of artists using lithography to transform political ideas into persuasive compositions of image and text.

 

Please click on thumbnails below to view larger images.

In the Galleries: Dogs played major role in the First World War

During the First World War, dogs attached to the Medical Corps and the Red Cross lived up to the title “Man’s Best Friend” by helping to rescue soldiers. 

 

Medical Corps dogs were trained to enter No Man’s Land (an unoccupied zone between the trench systems of the Allied and Central Powers) at night and locate fallen soldiers.  These dogs could recognize the scent of blood, check for a man’s breath, and–if the soldier were alive–deliver his hat to a Medical Corps officer.  (The hat’s insignia was an important identification method for the officer.)  Stretcher-bearers were then dispatched to rescue the soldier at daybreak. 

 

Indeed, dogs have participated in warfare for thousands of years.  According to some Egyptian murals, dogs were unleashed against enemies in Egypt as far back as 4000 B.C.E.  Dogs make excellent companions in modern war because of their superior auditory sense, which allows them to hear artillery fire before humans.  They also have superior night vision, making them valued message-bearers.

 

Included in the Ransom Center’s exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918 is Mildred Moody’s propaganda poster, reading “Even a Dog Enlists, Why Not You?” Also, explore other World War I-era posters in the Ransom Center’s new digital collection.

 

The World at War, 1914-1918 runs through August 3, 2014.

From the Outside In: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Childhood Drawings,” ca. 1870–1871

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows.

 

This scene in the window at the Harry Ransom Center shows one of the earliest known drawings by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec—a child’s pencil drawing of animals and farmers and country life. The artist was six or seven years old when he drew it; his mother kept the sketch, and it was later found among a treasure trove of family papers that were brought to Austin by the former curator of the Ransom Center’s French collection, Carlton Lake. The drawings are especially important because, before they were discovered, scholars had believed that young Henri began to draw around the age of 10. As Lake pointed out, the early drawings show the “same sharp wit and intelligence that characterize Lautrec’s mature work,” and they have “a precocious self-assurance, along with the full flavor and incisive observation of his later work.”

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec lived from 1864 to 1901, and today his work remains among the most recognizable art of the Post-Impressionist period. He was interested in showing Parisian night life without its glitz and glamour; instead, he captured the essence of the people who made the bohemian lifestyle so colorful during the fin de siècle. Today we know the most about Toulouse-Lautrec during his time in Paris, but he grew up in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, the son of an aristocratic mother and father who were first cousins. He died at the young age of 37, most likely of alcoholism and syphilis. He spent much of his adult life in the Parisian demimonde and brothels, but his mother was always a controlling figure in his life, and her collection of his work and papers informs Toulouse-Lautrec scholarship to this day.

 

The story of the Toulouse-Lautrec family papers and how they came to Austin is vividly told in Carlton Lake’s memoir Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist, published in 1990. The chapter detailing Lake’s discovery of the artist’s letters and drawings in the 1960s at the bookstore of Georges Privat on the Boulevard Haussmann, provides fascinating insights into collecting literary works and highlights the importance of primary sources for gaining insight into the creative process at work.

 

Ransom Center volunteer Karen White wrote this post.

Correspondence sheds light on illustrations for articles by landscape design critic Mariana Van Rensselaer

Biographer Judith Major’s recent book Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer: A Landscape Critic in the Gilded Age (University of Virginia Press) highlights the work of the pioneering landscape critic, and Major quotes from one of the letters in the Ransom Center’s Elizabeth and Joseph Pennell papers for her book. Joseph Pennell (1857–1926) was one of America’s premier etchers and illustrators. He found a commercial success as a magazine illustrator, turning out well-received renderings of American and, later, European scenes.

 

The Pennell collection includes correspondence that documents a notable creative project undertaken by Joseph Pennell (1857–1926) and Mariana Van Rensselaer (1851–1934) in which they published illustrated articles on the cathedrals and churches of England and France. Their two series of illustrated articles appeared in issues of The Century Magazine between 1887 and 1899; the first series, English Cathedrals, was issued in book form in 1892.

 

In 1882, when the idea for the articles on the cathedrals of England was first conceived by Van Rensselaer, she had been a published author and critic on art, architecture, and landscape architecture for six years. Pennell had been working as an illustrator, first in his native Philadelphia and then nationally, since the late 1870s. He had done illustrations in Scribner’s Magazine, Century, and other publications. His best-known work at that point was the illustrations he executed to accompany George Washington Cable’s text for The Creoles of Louisiana, issued serially in The Century Magazine during 1883 and published in book form in 1884.

 

Van Rensselaer likely invited Joseph Pennell to provide the illustrations for her English cathedral articles because both Van Rensselaer and the Century’s editor, Richard Watson Gilder, knew and respected Pennell’s work. In 1884, Pennell was living in London, married to Elizabeth Robins, a writer and fellow Philadelphian.

 

The work on the English cathedrals got off to a rocky start when, in the summer of 1885, Van Rensselaer, returning to New York from Germany, stopped in York, England, expecting to meet with Pennell. Pennell didn’t appear or account for his absence, and when later they were able to meet, he related to his wife, Elizabeth, “his frank impressions of Mrs. Van Rensselaer, who had ideas for the cathedral [at Salisbury] which were not his.” Despite this initial awkwardness the English cathedral series was completed “without unpleasantness” (in Elizabeth Pennell’s words), and the final article published in The Century Magazine by 1889.

 

As Pennell began his work on the churches of France in the fall of 1889, a new source of discord between artist and writer made itself evident. Pennell had begun working with churches in the south of France when he discovered several of those chosen for illustration had undergone recent restoration or were currently under restoration. This situation and the artist’s response to it had a significant impact upon his choices of subjects and the drawings he sent back to New York.

 

In a long letter Van Rensselaer wrote to W. Lewis Fraser of the Century art department on January 30, 1890, she reviewed Pennell’s drawings, and while on the whole she was pleased, she found problems with the cathedrals in Angoulême and Périgueux and the St. Sernin church in Toulouse.

 

Pennell had not supplied exterior views of any of the three that she found acceptable. Of St. Sernin she wrote “In some way or the other I must have at least one picture of the exterior of the church; if not from Mr. Pennell, then drawn by someone else from a photo.” In other cases Pennell had supplied views she hadn’t asked for; several of these she had turned down as “entirely useless for my purpose.”

 

In this file there is a six-month hiatus until the next piece of surviving correspondence. This was Mariana Van Rensselaer’s letter of July 31, 1890 to editor R. W. Gilder in which she responded to Joseph Pennell’s “recent letters to Mr. Fraser.”

 

Van Rensselaer opened with the comment that “I am sorry he finds some of the buildings in question ‘unillustrate-able’…” and goes on to assert that “ they are unrivalled in historical and, I venture to say, in broad and deep architectural (which means artistic) interest.”

 

Further along in the letter she notes that her choices of subject were intended to illustrate the significant regional variation seen in medieval French ecclesiastical architecture and, for this reason, “we must have the great typical buildings, however restored, and not less typical unrestored ones, or attractive bits gathered here and there.”

 

In Pennell’s letters he referred to his practice of using shading and other effects to ameliorate the problems posed by unsympathetic restoration and unfinished repairs, provocatively referring to this process as “cooking.” Van Rensselaer responded by observing that he had been “engaged to illustrate what he saw, not to make fancy sketches.” Later in the letter, however, she modified her position, stating the hope that Gilder “will give me the privilege of rejecting any that are ‘cooked’ in too palpable a way.”

 

Van Rensselaer’s 12-page response to Pennell was supplemented by a briefer letter from Gilder to the artist. In it he stated that The Century Magazine regarded the series as “an intellectual & historical” work “conducted by the writer of the articles” and that the magazine had “surely endeavored to meet your views in every way.” Gilder closed with the observation that the series upon that Pennell and Van Rensselaer labored was not, commercially speaking, a “hilariously ‘popular’ performance,” but one which demanded “great exertions and no little drudgery on the parts of both writer & artist.”

 

In his reply from Luchon, France, dated August 20, 1890, Pennell responded to Gilder’s letter by once again stating the impossibility of making tangible the intent of the original builders of the churches when they had been unsympathetically restored. “I can look beneath the restoration but Mrs. Van Rensselaer should remember that I must draw what is on the surface. [Henry Hobson] Richardson [whose sympathetic description of the churches had been mentioned by Van Rensselaer earlier] would never have dreamed of taking the modern restoration of St. Sernin as anything but a model of very ordinary work of the most uninteresting kind.”

 

Pennell defended “my cooking or faking … [of] these drawings [by asserting] when I come to one of these old churches … and find, instead of beautiful stained glass which ought to be there, blank white windows, or windows at times which are even yet unfinished … I have got to intensify, for example, my lights and shadows and try to give some sort of pictorial effect which really is not there.”

 

Pennell concluded his reply with the statement that “I never should think of criticizing Mrs. Van Rensselaer’s scheme or methods, but I cannot help repeating that she ought to bear in mind that I cannot draw the ideas of the old men when their work is not visible.”

 

The last item in the Pennell-Van Rensselaer correspondence file is Van Rensselaer’s letter of August 13, 1893 to Joseph Pennell, and its tone is in marked contrast to the preceding letters in the file. Having just returned to Marion (where she was living) from “that extraordinary and enchanting [World’s] Fair at Chicago,” she recounts her work rewriting the English cathedral book (by now entitled Handbook of English Cathedrals) and makes suggestions for Pennell’s work at Bourges, Le Mans, Chartres, and Le Puy. In closing, Van Rensselaer returns to the world’s fair, writing “I suppose you will come home to see the Fair. If not, you will miss the great sight of the century.”

 

Mariana Van Rensselaer withdrew from the project before the fourth article in the French cathedral series appeared in the September 1899 issue of The Century Magazine. Since Pennell had finished drawings on hand, the editors of the magazine asked Elizabeth Pennell to write the articles, allowing the series to be completed between 1907 and 1909. The cathedrals of Amiens, Beauvais, and Rouen concluded the project; these three were the only edifices in the series that Joseph Pennell etched on site.

 

Please click the thumbnails to view full-size images.

 

From the Outside In: David Douglas Duncan’s photograph “Picasso’s Eyes,” 1957

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows.

 

When Pablo Picasso walked into a room of people, his intense gaze commanded attention. He could seduce, caress, or even frighten people with his piercing eyes. His gaze still attracts many Harry Ransom Center patrons, even young school children, when they walk into the south atrium. There they see the window etching of David Douglas Duncan’s photograph of Picasso’s eyes, which calls attention to the Center’s archive of Duncan’s work and to his connection with the artist.

 

Duncan, an American photojournalist, began his professional career selling his picture stories to newspapers and magazines. In 1943, Duncan enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and was sent to the Pacific Theater. There, he took photographs of aerial missions and operations on the Solomon Islands, the Battle of Okinawa, and the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri. Duncan’s training and experiences during World War II prepared him well for future assignments covering both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. His ability to capture not only the action but also the human face of war, frequently at significant risk to himself, cemented his reputation as one of the greatest war photographers of the twentieth century.

 

In 1946, just one month after discharge from the military, Duncan was hired by Life magazine to be its correspondent to the Middle East, a position he held until 1956. The magazine sent Duncan all over the world to cover important events, including the end of the British Raj in India, various cultures of Africa, Afghanistan, and Japan, and conflicts in both the Middle East and—most notably—Korea. His photographs and captions reflect the viewpoints of ordinary people as well as those in power. While working for Life, Duncan grew increasingly frustrated when his images were used to illustrate articles by writers with whom he strongly disagreed. So in 1951, he published This Is War!, his own photo-narrative of the Korean War. Since then he has published 25 photography books on a number of subjects.

 

Duncan has said that his favorite person to photograph was Pablo Picasso. The two met in southern France in 1956, and were friends for the remaining 17 years of Picasso’s life. In 1957, Duncan published The Private World of Pablo Picasso, the first of eight books about the great artist. For the photograph of Picasso’s eyes, Duncan cropped the original image to achieve a dramatic effect. Two copies of the cropped image—which Duncan mounted to canvas—became the foundation for Picasso’s self-portraits as an owl. The Ransom Center holds several original works by Picasso resulting from his close friendship with Duncan; these include a sketch of Duncan at work and a lunch plate painted with a portrait of Duncan’s dachshund, Lump, signed and inscribed to the dog.

 

More information about both Duncan and Picasso is available in the Ransom Center’s web exhibition David Douglas Duncan.

 

Ransom Center volunteer Carol Headrick wrote this post.

World War I-era Russian propaganda posters portray food as evil

Food was in high demand during the First World War, especially in Russia. The food shortages were so constant that they were ultimately one of the factors that helped to incite the revolutions of 1917. Although seemingly minor compared to the famine Eastern Europe would later experience under Stalin, food shortages were instrumental in harvesting a deep resentment toward the tsar and general war weariness.

 

For everyday citizens, getting food in cities was a full-time job. It required spending long hours in line only to be rewarded with slim rations—and sometimes nothing at all. It would make sense to assume that all the food was going to soldiers at the front. However, by 1915, only a year into the war, the Russian Army was also suffering from the food shortage.

 

The Russian economy simply wasn’t equipped both to fight a war and feed its citizens. Young men left the countryside in droves after being conscripted into the army, severely cutting the available labor force and slowing agricultural production. Inflation as a result of the war then made it impossible for the remaining farmers to make a profit on their goods. No one could afford to grow food, and few could afford to buy enough of it. Food then became a prominent subject in Russian propaganda.

 

The Harry Ransom Center is home to the diverse collection of Kuharet’s Russian World War I posters. A surprising number of these prints pertain to food: specifically food that has been personified as evil. Even the act of eating food is portrayed as unpleasant—something that would likely have been incomprehensible to the starving nation.

 

Staples such as onions and potatoes morph into crude caricatures of Franz Josef, Wilhelm, and his sons, insisting that the evil of the Germans could only have grown in the garden of the devil himself. Another poster titled “Wilhelm’s Menu” replaces the expected food on the menu with violent actions against Wilhelm: showing him drowning, beaten, and left broken and alone. Posters such as these served to create negative connotations between food and eating.

 

Food was also strangely tied to nationalism, specifically in a series of posters titled “European Cuisine.” In this set, countries involved in the war are all personified as food: Germany and Austro-Hungary are both portrayed as conniving sausages, while Russia is equated to a hearty bowl of kasha (the Russian equivalent of porridge). While the sausages try in vain to consume the other “countries,” the kasha spills forth to overtake them. This poster is on view in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition The World at War, 1914–1918. The Russian kasha is made up of figures of soldiers—the only human characters on the poster. Even in posters real Russian food was lacking.

 

Food and the experience of eating were both portrayed as dangerous, violent, and unpleasant in a futile effort to make the starving Russian population forget the normalcy associated with these actions.

 

The Ransom Center’s collection of World War I-era propaganda posters have been digitized as part of the digital collections.

 

Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

In the Galleries: Frank Nicolet Lucien poster pays homage to poem “In Flanders Fields”

In the spring of 1915, John McCrae, a young Canadian surgeon, conducted a burial service for a friend, killed by German artillery during the Second Battle of Ypres, in the First World War. Inspired by the friend’s death, McCrae composed a poem, which he discarded, believing it to be no good. An officer retrieved it and convinced McCrae to keep working on it. The poem was published in December of that year.

 

The poem, “In Flanders Fields,” is an important work in the literature surrounding the First World War. Written in 1915, it did not describe the horrors and brutality of the conflict in the way authors such as Erich Maria Remarque would after the war ended. Rather, “In Flanders Fields” invokes a Romantic vision of the Great War, with its images of soaring larks and blowing poppies. These poppies have become emblematic of those who died during the war.

 

In the Harry Ransom Center’s exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918, a 1918 propaganda poster by Frank Nicolet Lucien features a Canadian soldier mourning the dead amid a field of the iconic poppies. One of the poster’s aims is to coerce civilians into buying war bonds. It entreats the viewer, “If ye break faith—we shall not sleep,” a reference to the last stanza of McCrae’s poem.

 

In the poem, the line is delivered by dead soldiers who ask that the living continue the fight so that the sacrifices of the fallen will not be in vain.

 

The World at War, 1914-1918 is on view through August 3.

 

Image: Frank Nicolet Lucien “In Flanders Fields” poster, 1918.

In the Galleries: Gordon Conway “Vanity Fair” cover illustration highlights shifting gender roles in World War I

World War I played a crucial part in the transformation of gender roles.  As men left for the battlefields, women took on traditionally male occupations at home.  Buoyed by this experience and a new sense of confidence, these women started demanding more rights and independence.

 

These shifting roles were mirrored by new fashions, such as the flapper attire, which was ushered in by the rebellion of the post-war Jazz Age.  Style magazines like Vanity Fair captured these trends on its covers.

 

Gordon Conway, a Texas-born fashion designer and illustrator, was famous for her drawings of these sophisticated and independent “New Women.”  Conway launched her career at Vogue and Vanity Fair, and she was so talented that she was soon working for other publications, as well as a host of different advertising clients.  Throughout her career, she did costume design, magazine art, and poster art for film, cabaret, and theater, working in New York, London, and Paris.  She was remarkable not only for her artistic talent, but also for her ability to influence women’s desires for more cultural, sexual, and legal freedoms.

 

A Conway cover illustration for Vanity Fair is currently on display in the Ransom Center’s exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918.  The illustration features a stylish, svelte nurse with an Afghan hound.  Although the illustration was rejected for publication, it was later used by the Red Cross as a recruitment poster.

 

The Ransom Center’s Conway collection includes original art; photographs of family, friends and productions; and diaries, costumes, personal effects, datebooks, and numerous scrapbooks.

 

The World at War, 1914-1918 runs through August 3, 2014.

 

Image: Gordon Conway “Red Cross Girl” illustration for Vanity Fair, 1918.

Director of Amon Carter Museum discusses concept of “westering”

Andrew J. Walker, Director of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, presents “Westering America: Frontier Thinking and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art” for the 2013 Amon Carter Lecture on Thursday, December 5 at 7 p.m. at the Harry Ransom Center. The program will be webcast live at 7 p.m. CST.

 

In his talk, Walker will explore the concept of “westering,” which originated from the first director of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art as an innovative approach to the institution’s process of collecting. Borrowed from Frederick Jackson Turner’s famous 1893 declaration that the West had been won, the idea suggests that there was always a “west,” a frontier, from the very early days of America’s establishment. “Settlement,” whether in New England or Cincinnati or the west as it exists today, has been a thread that, 50 years later, reveals a subtle historical point of continuity that has guided the growth of the museum’s collection.

 

Below, Walker shares his thoughts on “westering,” regionalism, and his museum.

 

CC: What is “westering?” How is the concept related to the collecting focus of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art?

 

AW: The concept of “westering” gave a focus to the early collecting patterns of the Amon Carter Museum, when it was actually known as the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art.  In those early years, the leadership at the museum attempted to find a way to preserve Amon G. Carter’s interest in the American West—largely in the work of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell—as his principle focus. To carry out his vision, there had to be some acknowledgement of the West as a guiding principle. However, at the same time there was an ambition to be more inclusive of the American experience generally. The solution came about in the notion of “westering.” To the early settlers of our nation, the East was the West and the frontier proved to be a concept that began, for instance, at Plymouth Colony and over time moved progressively across the territory of the United States. In this spirit, the Amon Carter would build on the existing holdings and enlarge its scope to include the whole of the term “western.”

 

CC: How has the Amon Carter Museum of American Art explored regionalism in the past, and how is the museum’s perspective on the movement unique?

 

AW: Regionalism as a concept is one that has been episodic but consistent. It has, however, defined its spirit of innovation. As noted in the concept of “westering,” the collection has grown with an understanding of the deep connection people (of diverse backgrounds) have to the land in which they live. But more narrowly, the museum has taken moments to explore that idea more deeply and relevantly to Texas and its impact in the artistic growth of the country. Sometimes it took the form of acquisitions, such as the magical group of watercolors that Georgia O’Keeffe made while teaching in West Texas. They were acquired by the museum in 1966, after being shown for the first time in a major re-examination of the artist’s career that year. My favorite moment, however, came in the late 1970s when the museum commissioned Richard Avedon to explore the identity of the modern American West. The result was the photographer’s transformative series, “In the American West,” which came about through the museum’s particularly assertive stance and is still powerful today.

 

In the past couple of years, the museum has taken a slightly different approach, recognizing the more specific importance of Texas artists, not only to art history but to the communities of collectors who are drawn to regionalism as a focus. As a continuation of an initiative begun with the 2008 exhibition, Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s, the museum is mounting exhibitions of works in local collections of the best Texas art from the 1880s to the 1950s. Not only is this about great American art, but it is also about relationships of those individuals who find collecting to be rewarding.

 

CC: How did your personal interest in regionalism begin? How has it expanded?

 

AW: My interest in regionalism really started through the relationships with various collectors, particularly when I lived and worked in St. Louis, and the inspiration they found in local artists who influenced their collecting. This drew me to names of local artists with whom I was unfamiliar but who had made remarkable achievements in the art world.  That ultimately led to a large and important study of the artist Joe Jones, a midwestern social realist who in his day achieved great importance nationally, whose reputation and significant achievement had become lost, forgotten even to his children. The exhibition and book made me realize how significant it is to balance the regional in the national story of American art.

 

Image: Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986). Light Coming on the Plains No. I, 1917. Watercolor on newsprint paper. 11 7/8 x 8 7/8 inches. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

In the archive: Ed Ruscha’s “Twentysix Gasoline Stations”

Ed Rucha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations, a thin paperback that resembles an industrial manual of the 1960s, is often considered to be the first modern artist’s book. The book is exactly what the title describes: 26 images of gasoline stations along Route 66 between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City.

 

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Oklahoma City, Ruscha was living and working in Los Angeles in the 1960s and frequently traveled the route between the two cities to visit his family.

 

“I just had a personal connection to that span of mileage between Oklahoma and California,” Ruscha told NPR earlier this year on the 50th anniversary of the book. “It just, it kind of spoke to me.”

 

In an interview with Avalanche magazine in 1973 he said, “I’d always wanted to make a book of some kind. When I was in Oklahoma I got a brainstorm in the middle of the night to do this little book called Twentysix Gasoline Stations. I knew the title. I knew it would be photographs of twenty-six gasoline stations.”

 

So, Ruscha documented gas stations along that route in black-and-white photographs and labeled them with their locations, from “Texaco, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles” to “‘Flying A, Kingman, Arizona” to the final image “Fina, Groom, Texas.”

 

Ruscha published the book at age 26 in a run of 400 numbered copies in April 1963. Though it was the same year as Ruscha’s first solo exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, the book didn’t initially receive a warm reception. In a 1963 letter, the Library of Congress declined to add a copy to their collection, noting the book’s “unorthodox form and supposed lack of information.”

 

The book gradually acquired cult status in the 1960s, and a second edition was published in 1967 and a third in 1969. Surviving first editions of the book are rare.

 

Ruscha’s archive, which was recently acquired by the Ransom Center, includes snapshots of the gas stations, Ruscha’s notes about the project, the Library of Congress letter, and an advertisement with the headline “REJECTED Oct. 2, 1963 by the Library of Congress.”

 

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Oof. Peek inside the Ed Ruscha archive