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The conservation department at the Harry Ransom Center treated many collection items in preparation for the current exhibition The World at War 1914–1918. Among these were numerous posters of various sizes, including a mural-sized poster (about 3 x 5 feet) depicting a Red Cross nurse. The poster reads: “Join—Red Cross Work Must Go On!—all you need is a heart and a dollar.”
The poster came to the paper conservation lab having been lined in the past with a heavy, blue, starch-filled cloth, much like that used for binding books. This inappropriate fabric lining was noticeably wrinkled, and the blue color accentuated a large loss near the upper right corner of the poster. We made the decision to remove this lining and flatten the cockled poster. We also decided to fill the loss with a toned paper to make this area less distracting to the viewer.
First, we surface cleaned the poster using a large, soft brush to remove loose dust and dirt. We continued cleaning the surface grime with rubber sponges, sometimes referred to as “soot sponges.” To remove the lining fabric, we needed to bathe the poster, which would loosen the lining adhesive and allow us to gently peel back the fabric. We tested all of the inks to ensure that they would not be sensitive to water, and we then pre-humidified the print and bathed it in deionized water at a neutral pH. The adhesive began to soften within only a few minutes, and we were able to separate the lining from the poster. While the poster was still in the water bath, verso upward, we could feel that there was still adhesive clinging to the back of the paper. We used wads of cotton to swab off this residual adhesive. We exchanged the water bath two times until we were confident that we had cleaned it as well as we could. Next, we lifted the wet poster out of the bath. Handling wet paper is not difficult because we include a layer of spun polyester—called Reemay—on both the front and back of an item when we bathe it. The Reemay acts as a support during the bath and afterwards, when transporting the wet paper. The poster was allowed to dry flat between layers of Reemay and blotters, under weight.
About a week later, we removed the poster from under the weight and began work on the fill. In paper conservation, Japanese paper is often used to fill losses. This strong, thin paper works well for repairing or filling losses and can be toned to a suitable color. The poster’s missing portion covered both red and off-white sections. We toned a Japanese paper with red acrylic paint and layered this over an off-white Japanese paper. The fill was then shaped to fit the loss and adhered in place with wheat starch paste. Again, the poster was placed between Reemay and blotter, under weight to ensure that the fill would dry flat. Once the poster was completely dried, the fill was trimmed along the outside edge.
This treatment was unusual only in that the poster is so large. Otherwise, the techniques described here are common treatments in paper conservation.
Please click on thumbnails to view larger images.
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.
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.
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.