Answering the Call: American Victory Posters from the First World War – exhibit at SC Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum

by Mary Catherine Ballou

 

Photo: Every Girl Pulling for Victory, Edward Penfield (American, 1866-1925), 1918, Chromolithograph
Photo: Every Girl Pulling for Victory, Edward Penfield (American, 1866-1925), 1918, Chromolithograph

 

Answering the Call: American Victory Posters from the First World War, currently on display at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum (located in the Cistern Gallery at 301 Gervais Street inside the SC State Museum building), proves that fascinating art shows can sometimes be found in unlikely places.  Consisting of 38 chromolithograph posters advertising Liberty Bonds and other wartime fundraising efforts, along with various WWI memorabilia including uniforms, helmets, and artillery shells, this exhibit grants viewers a gander at century-old artifacts that served crucial roles during a stark turning point in history, when the United States went from honoring a staunch isolationist policy to becoming involved in a global, casualty-ridden war.

 

Photo: To-Day Buy That Liberty Bond, Anonymous, 1918, Chromolithograph
Photo: To-Day Buy That Liberty Bond, Anonymous, 1918, Chromolithograph

 

The artistic elements of this exhibit loom just as intriguing as the historical aspects.  Each poster is a chromolithograph, which means they are colored prints.  The word ‘chromolithograph’ derives from the Greek words for color, stone, and writing – ‘khroma’, ‘lithos’, and ‘graphe.’  The importance of the visual techniques used in these posters remains evident throughout the collection.  While each was mass-produced to serve as propaganda to citizens during WWI, the graphic design components of the posters reflect an equally important purpose – to act as durable, attention-grabbing, clearly understandable forms of visual media.

Photo: V (for Victory), Anonymous, 1919, Chromolithograph
Photo: V (for Victory), Anonymous, 1919, Chromolithograph

 

One of the informational displays in the gallery states, “Maybe it is not so difficult to imagine the impact that commercial art had on the lives of the American people during World War I in light of the astonishing and sometimes overwhelming influence of visual media on today’s culture.  Social media sites, cell phone applications, television, now all interconnected and omnipresent, infiltrate our social landscapes in ways that posters once could not, but the messages and images they carried succeeded in doing.”  During the pre-television, pre-Internet time of the 20th century, printed graphics, along with newspapers and radio, served as vital forms of media.  As a result, these ubiquitous posters were constant, visual reminders to Americans across the country during WWI.

 

Photo: Lend Your Strength to the Red Triangle, Gil Spear (American, active in 20th century), Chromolithograph  
Photo: Lend Your Strength to the Red Triangle, Gil Spear (American, active in 20th century), Chromolithograph

An array of demographics and organizations are displayed in these posters, including but not limited to: The Red Cross, Knights of Columbus, the Boy Scouts, YMCA and YWCA, and women.  Representations of African Americans during WWI appear in two illustrations in the exhibit, one of which reveals a black, uniform-clad American soldier that is entitled “The heads of the German Kaiser and Emperor of Austria-Hungary pinned by his arms.”  The uniform of a female Red Cross volunteer in France and Germany from 1917-1919 stands next to these illustrations, entitled “Red Cross Uniform Worn by Anna Heyward Taylor.”  Another noteworthy piece on display includes a Norman Rockwell chromolithograph entitled “Is He Getting It Over?” (1917-1918).  The print shows a young American soldier attempting to speak French, serving as an advertisement for a YMCA-sponsored French language instruction book.  The classic “I Want You for U.S. Army” (1917) print by James Montgomery Flagg, which portrays Uncle Sam sternly pointing his finger at the viewer, hangs in the gallery as well.  The placard next to this piece affirms its enduring popularity, stating, “Between 1917 and 1918, over four million copies of this poster were printed.  The image was so popular that it was put to use again to stir the masses into action during World War II although it remains familiar even to modern audiences.”

 

Photo: Conflit Européen (The heads of the German Kaiser and Emperor of Austria-Hungary pinned by his arms), 1914, Poster
Photo: Conflit Européen (The heads of the German Kaiser and Emperor of Austria-Hungary pinned by his arms), 1914, Poster

 

Answering the Call: American Victory Posters from the First World War reinforces the historic significance and success of these posters.  It also provides an intimate survey of these artistically rich artifacts that are rarely seen in-person today, but remain quite recognizable nonetheless.  The power of visual art to inspire, motivate, and instill certain values in viewers is self-evident in the results of these posters, whose sole purposes were to persuade Americans to finance the United States war effort through the purchase of liberty bonds and stamps.  According to the exhibition, “Upon the Allied victory on November 11, 1918, less than two years after the United States declared war, the five combined loan drives raised over 20.5 billion dollars, enough to cover 100% of American military expenses.”  This is a classic example of what stirring propaganda can do to motivate people to achieve a common goal.  Filled with bold, vivid colors and impassioned compositions, the posters in this exhibit capture the essence of modernistic mediums and artistic trends such as art nouveau.  Many of the illustrators of these pieces appear to be inspired by both impressionistic and realist art forms, with a combination of bright and light colors, linear shading, and dramatic expressions and scenes.  The powerful images reflected in these posters promote an emotional response even today, as they were originally intended to do during WWI, and they serve as a testament to both the skill and expertise of the talented artists of this era.

 

Photo: Blood or Bread, Henry Patrick Raleigh (American, 1880-1944), 1917, Chromolithograph  
Photo: Blood or Bread, Henry Patrick Raleigh (American, 1880-1944), 1917, Chromolithograph

A travelling exhibit from Hollingsworth Fine Arts, Answering the Call: American Victory Posters from the First World War will be on display at the SC Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum through December 30, 2016. For more information, please visit: https://www.crr.sc.gov and http://www.hollingsworthfinearts.com/#!answering-the-call/cg3.

 

Photo: United We Serve, Anonymous, 1918, Chromolithograph
Photo: United We Serve, Anonymous, 1918, Chromolithograph
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REVIEW: Anatomy of a Hug at Trustus Theatre

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By Jon Tuttle

You know how this will end.  You know when you meet her that Amelia, a thirty-something emotional shut-in, will journey from estrangement to engagement.   And still, in the closing moments of Anatomy of a Hug, when all of the obvious signs have directed you to that inevitable conclusion, you are thrilled.   Kat Ramsburg’s original script is the most engaging Trustus Playwrights’ Festival winner in recent memory and makes for a powerful evening of theatre.

The play ends, as it must, of course it must, with an embrace. But not the one you think, and not the one on the playbill, where Dewey Scott-Wiley, as Sonia, a dying ex-con, hugs daughter Amelia, played by Rebecca Herring. The play begins as these two are reunited through a Compassionate Release program, owing to the former’s late-stage ovarian cancer. Sonia functions through the rest of the play as an hourglass: we sense, as her condition diminishes, the denouement quickly approaching.

And so there is an urgency to the action: the play, you feel, must hurry up to solve the riddle of Amelia.  But it doesn’t. Instead, Ramsburg exploits that urgency by patiently and methodically assembling her characters, and Herring quite marvelously inhabits a young woman suffering from technology-induced autism. Her mother having spent twenty-six years in prison for killing her father, Amelia has been shunted from one foster home to another. Along the way, she has counted on television to provide her with a social circle and a recognizable (or at least predictable) plotline. Her extensive DVD collection is full of friends she can “check in with” and who are “always there when you need them.” In a particular touching revelation, we learn that it was TV’s Roseann who told her about menstruation and that Sex and The City’s Aidan was her first boyfriend.

As a Save The Children-style telemarketer, Amelia is quite adept at constructing compelling narratives that convince strangers to “adopt” children in Burundi for only $35 a month. She is so earnest and knows so little of real emotional intimacy that she can, without the slightest sense of irony, peddle children half-a-world away.   It’s only when a co-worker, Ben, begins courting her that we see how lost she is. Her problem is not that she has walls; she has nothing to build them with.  She simply doesn’t know how to be. As she tells Ben, “I don’t have any other stories” than the ones she lives through on TV.

Ben is played here by Patrick Michael Kelly in an affecting return to Trustus’ stage after several years in New York, and in Ben’s trajectory we sense the underpinnings of the production itself. In the early going, he bumbles onstage like The Honeymooners’ Ed Norton. He is, well, cartoonish—or as Amelia calls him, “like someone in a sitcom—there’s something not quite real about you.”  And that’s because there’s nothing quite real about the staging.

Director Chad Henderson, along with some inventive scene, sound, and lighting design by Baxter Engle and Marc Hurst, plays Brecht for us. The backdrop is a test-pattern, the lights are exposed, and we assume the role of a studio audience even to the extent that we are instructed (by electronic light boards) when to applaud and laugh. At first, that conceit doesn’t work.  It pushes us—Brecht would say alienates us—out of the play itself. We are asked to laugh at lines that aren’t that funny, to applaud beats that don’t deserve it. We are placed, that is, in an emotionally-manufactured setting where we simply don’t know if our responses are appropriate.

Just like Amelia.

Along the way, though, the production changes just as Ben does. Kelly plays Ben as two people: an irritating, schmaltzy showman protecting someone much more wounded and sincere.  About the time we discover ourselves warming up to him, we notice also that our responses aren’t being coached anymore: all the studio trappings have fallen away, and we have been allowed into the world of the play.

Sure there are problems, there must always be problems. Some may find the television studio elements too intrusive. While Brecht insisted that we must always be shown that we are being shown something, his best plays often ignored that advice. As Sonia, the catalyst for Amelia’s ultimate emotional re-integration, Scott-Wiley’s not given much to do except break the damned TV and die (which she does quite movingly. The woman sitting next to me was downright weepy.) And the story she tells about the murder charge that landed her a life-sentence doesn’t quite add up; it sounds more like vehicular manslaughter, the sort of thing you could plea-bargain out of, particularly if you have a daughter who needs you.

And there are times when Ramsburg forgets the thing she does best: knowing what to leave out. She is very good at minimizing exposition and keeping us Here In This Moment, but through the latter third of the play—as Amelia finds her voice—I felt I was once again being coached on how to feel and respond.   Still, the writing here is very assured, and Ramsburg’s play is a threnody for those like Amelia crippled by a culture that artificializes family and belonging and what Arthur Miller called the congealments of warmth.

If the opening night standing ovation is any indication, Trustus’ production has done it considerable justice. Herring’s Amelia is someone we know better than she knows herself, and that’s some trick.  As a woman destroyed by disease and hallucinating on painkillers and flashbacks, Sonia is lucky to have Scott-Wiley. Kelly’s Ben shows us a broken man trying hard to be someone more charming and charismatic than he really is.  And Iris—well, Iris is difficult in that she is a primarily just a functionary, equal parts social worker, DOC case manager, and hospice nurse.  But Annette Grevious ably humanizes her and establishes a presence that quilts these torn pieces together.

At bottom, Anatomy of a Hug is a boy meets/gets/loses/gets girl story.  Like many modern plays, this play gives us two quirky lovers fighting through the obstacles within and without and arriving at last in each other’s arms. And yet it feels new. It allows us to identify with that part of our psyche that is permanently awkward or stunted or doesn’t know what to do with its hands, and, in the end, it grants us compassionate release.

Jon Tuttle is Professor of English at Francis Marion University and former Literary Manager at Trustus Theatre, which has produced five of his plays.  

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REVIEW: The Get Down – a new Netflix Original series — By Mary Catherine Ballou

 

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As fads become fixtures, nouns describing these trends sometimes have a tendency to be used as verbs in colloquial speech.  Once this transformation occurs, the saying has the potential to become overused, turning it cliché at best and reprehensible at worst.  Such is the case with the ubiquitous remark, to “Netflix and chill”.  While this phrase evolved to connote sexual undertones, it grows difficult to deny the popularity of this slang verb usage – Netflix proves time and time again, ahem, regardless of ulterior motives on the part of viewers, that this streaming service is efficient and entertaining, allowing audiences to access scores of television shows and movies culled together in one convenient location.

 

With that being said, the new Netflix original series entitled The Get Down (released August 12) is well worth watching, especially if one is partial to musically charged period pieces.  Created by Baz Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis, with production assistance from music industry professionals including Grandmaster Flash and Nas, The Get Down emphasizes quality over quantity – there are currently only six episodes available to watch on Netflix, the budget of the show is anything but cheap, and the pilot itself runs for over an hour and a half.  Luhrmann, known for his cinematographic stylization in such films as Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001), and The Great Gatsby (2013), directs The Get Down in a similarly stylized mode appropriate for the setting of the show.  A gritty, lavish, and aesthetically striking escapade, the storyline revolves around a group of talented teenagers growing up in the Bronx during the birth of the hip-hop scene in 1970s New York.  Concurrently, the show focuses on the rise of disc jockeys out of the disco era, buffeted to popularity with the innovation of spinning two records at once in order to mix and play multiple beats in a continuous loop.

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Starring an exceptional cast, the characters are gifted with an assortment of skills.  The role of Ezekiel (Justice Smith), nicknamed “Books” for his knack with poetry and eloquent way of speaking, is considered the “Word Master” of the group as he recites lyrical rhymes that morph into song.  Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) serves as the “Grasshopper” hustler inclined to martial arts, who soars through scenes like a feather-footed conqueror of the night.  There is no shortage of strong female roles, either.  Breakout actress Herizen Guardiola plays Mylene, the female protagonist graced with a beautiful voice and steadfast disposition who must confront her family’s expectations and her own aspirations to achieve her dream of a career in musical performance.

 

The Get Down exudes an ethereal, almost ornate air reminiscent of theatrical elements used in productions such as the film adaptation of West Side Story (1961), in which visual and musical artistry stands side by side with hatred and violence.  Bold and colorful costumes and sets; interwoven stanzas of song, dance, and rhymes; and gripping storylines infuse The Get Down with vibrancy that helps to anchor this captivating drama.  The camera zooms sporadically in and out of eccentric details, cutting back and forth in a swishing manner while myriad disco and hip hop tunes provide auditory stimulation, conjuring an atmosphere of surrealism on screen.  The Get Down contains Shakespearean overtones, revealed in the occasional formality of language and the assortment of characters and plots depicted – some appear wise beyond their years while others act foolish and shortsighted.  Various aspects of the show also recall the storylines of such classics including Oliver Twist and Peter Pan, with groups of delinquent youth running around dilapidated city streets and burning buildings in the struggle to survive on a daily basis.

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This series incorporates components of the artistic fields – dance, music, poetry, theatre, and fashion each play simultaneously major roles.  These creative details, combined with poignant storylines and struggles, render the show compelling.  Graphic and uncompromising at times, The Get Down streams like a fantastical whirlwind tour of the not-so-pretty sides of the crime-ridden and impoverished streets and hangouts of the Bronx in the 70s, coupled with soulful and candid vignettes of the characters’ lives.

 

Piquant and provocative, The Get Down places a spotlight on the crucial role of the citizens of the Bronx in New York City in the 1970s, during a time of turmoil and revolution both musically and socially.  Alternating scenes of heartbreak and victory distinguish this show, portraying both the doldrums of teenage life and the treacherous adventures these youth decide to embark on in an attempt to fulfill their potentials and utilize their talents, all with the hopes of breaking free and soaring as confident leaders in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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