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WWI posters recall another time
McKissick exhibit is from collection of USC professor whose father fought in the Great War

Staff Writer, Published in THE STATE, September 18, 2003

The poster is as close to art as propaganda gets.

Waves of German biplanes have reduced the Statue of Liberty to rubble and turned the Manhattan skyline into a conflagration of orange and red.

The message is simple: Defeat the Germans in Europe before the fight comes here. “That Liberty Should Not Perish,” it reads.

The 1918 lithograph by American artist Joseph Pennell is considered the most significant of the 37 World War I posters that will be on display starting Sunday at USC’s McKissick Museum.

The exhibit, which will run through Dec. 7, includes the best of 95 propaganda posters from the Great War collected over the last four years and donated to USC by professor Matthew Bruccoli and his wife, Arlyn.

The posters are part of a collection of more than 3,000 World War I artifacts in the Joseph M. Bruccoli Great War Collection at USC’s Thomas Cooper Library.

The collection is named for Matthew Bruccoli’s father, a World War I veteran who was severely wounded in 1918 near Aisne, France.

Bruccoli grew up listening to his father spin tales of the war. As a child, he would even wear his father’s campaign medal with seven bars (for seven battles) at Armistice Day parades.

But Bruccoli, an English professor and biographer of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, never researched his father’s service.

“I didn’t want to let the facts get in the way of the stories he told,” Bruccoli said.

Joseph Bruccoli died in 1965.

In 1999, his son embarked on a project to collect items relating to WWI for the USC library.

“It seemed appropriate for my wife and me to celebrate my father this way,” Bruccoli said.

Bruccoli traveled the world in search of memorabilia — art, artifacts, sheet music and posters. Oddly, he found most of the posters in Maine.

Bruccoli doesn’t know why so many posters were available in Maine. “I found 18 in two days,” he said.

Most of the posters cost between $50 and $300. The most expensive was $1,000.

“In addition to their value as propaganda and social history, they are also art,” Bruccoli said.

Scott Patrick, associate university librarian for special collections at Thomas Cooper, said the Great War collection was unique .

“This is the first new collection built piece-by-piece here by the library,” he said.

All of the nations that fought in World War I from 1914 to 1918 produced propaganda posters.

They were displayed not only to bolster support for the war, but also to raise money, recruit men and collect material.

“All of the countries were trying to raise money,” said Jay Williams, McKissick’s curator of exhibitions. “The war turned out to be a lot longer than anyone realized.”

The lithographs “were the first mass-communicated imagery,” he added. “There was no TV. Movies were in their infancy. There was nothing to compete with these images.”

The United States joined the fight late in the war (April 1917), but produced more propaganda posters than any other nation.

Bruccoli has never found a World War I poster in South Carolina.

He urged anyone who has a poster or other World War I artifacts to donate them to the library.

“There may be dozens within 50 miles of Columbia, maybe in someone’s barn,” Bruccoli said. “They don’t do anyone any good in the chicken coop.”

 

Great War Posters
Photographer: Keith McGraw
4/18/2003
DEIS Job Number:034-1522
kem@sc.edu
 

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