Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Poster of the Week

I Want You For U.S. Army

James Montgomery Flagg

U.S. Government Printing Office

Offset, First Printed 1917


Uncle George Wants You

Stephen Kroninger

Offset, 1991

Madison, Wisconsin


Originally published by the artist and offered free to peace groups, the poster was then reprinted and distributed by the Progressive Magazine.

I Want Out

Larry Dunst and Steve Horn

Committee to Help Unsell the War

Offset, 1971

New York, New York


I Want You To Drive An SUV

Donald Farnsworth

Digital Print, 2002

San Francisco, California


To commemorate July 4th and the U.S. war of independence, CSPG’s Poster of the Week focuses on the image of Uncle Sam, one of this country’s most recognized symbols. During the Revolutionary War, before there was an Uncle Sam, there was an earlier fictional character named Brother Jonathan, who was created to personify the entire United States. From 1776 to 1783, "Brother Jonathan" was a mildly derisive term used by Loyalists (who remained loyal to British King George III) to describe the Patriots (who supported independence from Britain).

In editorial cartoons and patriotic posters, Brother Jonathan was generally clean shaven, and either depicted as an American revolutionary with a tri-cornered hat and long military jacket, or with a top hat, tailed coat and stripped pants. The latter dress style later became identified with Uncle Sam.

Uncle Sam has been personifying the U.S. government since the War of 1812, but both Brother John and Uncle Sam remained in use until after the Civil War. Brother Jonathan was a representative of the revolutionary age, when all the states were considered brothers. The United States was a plural term in those ancient days - "the United States, they..." But after the Civil War, the federal government became more dominant than the states, and the United States became a singular term -"the United States, it..."

Federalist Brother Jonathan would no longer do, and Washingtonian Uncle Sam became the preferred image. Cartoonist Thomas Nast helped establish the image of Uncle Sam in the latter 1800s. Nast also provided us with our popular image of Santa Claus, and first represented the Republican Party as an elephant and the Democrats as a donkey.

The depiction of Uncle Sam as a stern elderly man with white hair and a goatee, dressed in clothing that uses the design elements of the American flag, became common during the Civil War. The best-known and now iconic recruitment poster of Uncle Sam by James Montgomery Flagg, first appeared on the cover of a magazine in 1916. Flagg was an illustrator and portrait artist best known for commercial art. Although Flagg used a modified version of his own face for his Uncle Sam, he based the pose with its dramatic pointing finger, on a 1914 British recruitment poster featuring Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War. More than four million copies of Flagg’s I Want You poster were printed between 1917 and 1918. This poster was also used extensively during World War II, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and is still used to recruit today.

CSPG’s Poster of the Week shows how the same image can be used to support war, oppose war or parody popular assumptions about war. In addition to the 1917 poster, the 3 variations are shown were produced during the Viet Nam War [I Want Out], during the first Gulf War [Uncle George Wants You], and soon after the war against Afghanistan began [I Want You To Drive An SUV]

All of these posters were part of American Icons—Graphics of Patriotism & Dissent,

which premiered at the Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design, in April 2011. The exhibition is now available to travel and will soon be on our website: www.politicalgraphics.org

Additional Reading:

fictional dialogue between Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam by Daniel De Leon

Originally published in _The People_, April 18, 1897
As reprinted in _The People_, April 6, 1991


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