Com­pas­sion cam­paigns

Ex­hibit in­cludes U.S. War Re­lief posters, mem­o­ra­bilia from World War II

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - JACK SCHNEDLER

Amer­ica was the Ar­se­nal of Democ­racy for the Al­lied na­tions bat­tling the Axis pow­ers in World War II. That story — of even­tual vic­tory fu­eled by U.S. in­dus­trial mus­cle — is well known. So are the fa­mous bat­tles that led to tri­umph, from Mid­way to D-Day and a cav­al­cade of others.

Much less fa­mil­iar is the role of Amer­i­can gen­eros­ity in pro­vid­ing suc­cor to the mil­lions upon mil­lions of or­di­nary Euro­peans and Asians bru­tal­ized by the ag­gres­sion of Ger­many, Ja­pan and Italy.

That story is brought vividly to light by a tour­ing ex­hibit, “Work, Fight, Give: Amer­i­can Re­lief Posters of WWII,” which con­tin­ues through Oct. 5 at Lit­tle Rock’s MacArthur Mu­seum of Arkansas Mil­i­tary His­tory.

The medium for this mes­sage of hope is some 40 posters urg­ing help for more than a dozen na­tions. They come from

a col­lec­tion of sev­eral hun­dred posters ac­quired over the years by Hal Wert, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory at the Kansas City (Mo.) Art In­sti­tute.

The poster art was cre­ated for an ar­ray of agen­cies, many un­der the aegis of the Na­tional War Fund cre­ated by Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt in 1942 to co­or­di­nate the wel­ter of re­lief ef­forts. The aid con­tin­ued un­til 1947, two years af­ter the war’s end. It in­cluded food, medicine, cloth­ing, am­bu­lances and cash.

The posters are pro­pa­ganda in the sense that they seek to stir emo­tions that will mo­bi­lize minds and bring ac­tion — con­tri­bu­tions to help war sur­vivors over­seas. They were drawn by a host of artists and il­lus­tra­tors in­clud­ing such prom­i­nent fig­ures as Grant Wood, James Montgomery Flagg and Martha Sawyers.

Sawyers cre­ated one of the ex­hibit’s most fa­mous posters, for United China Re­lief. Head­lined “China: First to Fight,” it por­trays an ide­al­ized Chi­nese fam­ily in the vast Far East­ern land partly oc­cu­pied by the Ja­panese. The fa­ther, in mil­i­tary uni­form, car­ries a ri­fle over his shoul­der. The mother, one arm in a sling, holds the hand of their daugh­ter. All three have a look both somber and de­ter­mined.

Other posters in the sec­ond-floor dis­play con­vey a

sim­i­larly martial mes­sage. A guer­rilla fighter about to throw a hand grenade is pic­tured with the head­line “The Fight­ing Filipinos: We Will Al­ways Fight for Free­dom.”

Pol­ish War Re­lief’s mes­sage, be­low the im­age of a war­rior wield­ing a lance and rid­ing a winged horse, is “Poland’s War­riors of the Air Like Knights of Old De­fend the Free­dom of the World.”

A con­trast­ing theme seeks sym­pa­thy for the war’s hap­less vic­tims. Greek War Re­lief’s poster shows the an­guished face of a woman along with the mes­sage “From Want of Food — Never From Want of Courage: Greece Needs Your Help Now.”

A poster for the Co­or­di­nat­ing Coun­cil of French Re­lief So­ci­eties pic­tures two hun­gry-look­ing young­sters, one of whom ap­pears to be lick­ing the last bit of food from a bowl. Its head­line: “Save a Child in France.”

“Bl­itzkrieg!” is the main head­line in a poster that de­picts an English mother and child cring­ing as Ger­man bombers pass over­head. The rest of the ex­hor­ta­tion: “Now Is the Time to Aid Eng­land. Send Con­tri­bu­tions to Bun­dles for Bri­tain.”

Wert spoke at the show’s open­ing. He calls his cre­ation “the first ex­hi­bi­tion to chal­lenge our tra­di­tional mem­ory of World War II, putting re­lief ef­forts at the fore­front through an ar­ray of vis­ually ex­cit­ing poster art,” along with poster stamps (called “Cin­derel­las”), pho­tographs and ban­ners.

Ex­cept for Great Bri­tain, the na­tions be­ing helped were en­tirely or mostly un­der Axis oc­cu­pa­tion. Their ci­ti­zens usu­ally re­ceived sig­nif­i­cant as­sis­tance only af­ter lib­er­a­tion. This ran counter to the ear­lier wishes of for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Her­bert Hoover, a ma­jor fig­ure in the aid ef­forts.

Hoover, ac­cord­ing to Wert, “ad­vo­cated feed­ing the hun­gry even while their Euro­pean coun­tries were oc­cu­pied. He chal­lenged the Bri­tish block­ade of con­ti­nen­tal Europe, and while he fi­nally lost that ar­gu­ment in 1940, his re­lief com­mit­tees did feed peo­ple un­der Nazi rule in Poland, as well as Pol­ish refugees in Ro­ma­nia and Hun­gary.”

Other com­pli­ca­tions be­dev­iled aid ef­forts af­ter the Axis had sur­ren­dered in 1945, as Wert points out:

“The re­lief agen­cies mir­rored the po­lit­i­cal strug­gles that oc­curred in many of the for­merly oc­cu­pied coun­tries for post-war supremacy. This was par­tic­u­larly true of places like Lithua­nia, Poland, Cze­choslo­vakia and Yu­goslavia as the new com­mu­nist regimes or fac­tions at­tempted to tor­pedo Na­tional War Fund aid. Help to Rus­sia was sub­stan­tial but tricky, as many Amer­i­cans were skep­ti­cal of our uneasy al­liance with the Red Bear.”

The posters, in Wert’s mind, “tell the story of those mo­ti­vated to do some­thing about the car­nage and chaos left be­hind when the din of bat­tle sub­sided and the armies moved on. Re­lief or­ga­ni­za­tions in big ci­ties and small towns alike found cre­ative ways to mo­bi­lize Amer­i­cans and col­lec­tively raise many mil­lions of dol­lars to help those in war zones.”

“Work, Fight, Give” com­ple­ments an­other MacArthur Mu­seum ex­hibit, “First Call: Amer­i­can Posters of World War I,” dis­played in a first­floor gallery dur­ing cen­ten­nial com­mem­o­ra­tions of the U.S. en­try into what was then known as the Great War.

These posters were col­lected by Lit­tle Rock na­tive Thomas Wil­son Clapham. Af­ter his death in 1992, the posters were nearly dis­carded be­fore they were do­nated to the mu­seum in 1999 and were later con­served through do­na­tions by He­len T. Leigh of Lit­tle Rock.

Stephan McA­teer, the mu­seum’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, sees a clear con­nec­tion between the two ex­hibits:

“They show how pow­er­ful posters were in in­flu­enc­ing pub­lic opinion and in fund­ing the con­duct of the wars and the re­cov­ery from them. Pro­pa­ganda posters helped raise two-thirds of the to­tal U.S. cost of World War I. The re­lief posters of World War II raised around $321 mil­lion to aid war-rav­aged coun­tries. That would amount to about $4.4 bil­lion to­day.”

As for what vis­i­tors can take away from view­ing the re­lief posters, McA­teer sees them as “a pow­er­ful re­minder of the con­tin­u­ing need for phi­lan­thropy in our tu­mul­tuous world, and how the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion met that chal­lenge. The poster artists used his­tor­i­cal, mytho­log­i­cal and cul­tural sym­bols to con­nect with Amer­i­cans whose roots lay in other na­tions, re­flect­ing how di­verse our coun­try is — and re­mains to­day.”

From a pri­vate col­lec­tion

Grant Wood, best known for his painting Amer­i­can Gothic, cre­ated this poster art to raise money to sup­port Bri­tish ci­ti­zens dur­ing World War II. The poster is part of the tour­ing ex­hi­bi­tion “Work, Fight, Give: Amer­i­can Re­lief Posters of WWII” at the MacArthur Mu­seum of Arkansas Mil­i­tary His­tory.

From a pri­vate col­lec­tion

Amer­i­cans were en­cour­aged to sup­port re­lief ef­forts for Amer­ica’s al­lies in World War II. Speed Up Amer­ica was de­signed by artist James Montgomery Flagg.

From a pri­vate col­lec­tion

Pol­ish War Re­lief was cham­pi­oned by the artist Wla­dys­law Theodor Benda in this poster.

From a pri­vate col­lec­tion

A soldier mourn­ing fallen com­rades is the fo­cus of this poster, part of the ex­hibit “Work, Fight, Give: Amer­i­can Re­lief Posters of WWII.”

From a pri­vate col­lec­tion

Texas na­tive Martha Sawyers is an in­flu­en­tial il­lus­tra­tor who be­came known as an artist who could han­dle the de­pic­tion of other races and cul­tures with pas­sion and sen­si­tiv­ity. Her poster for United China Re­lief is dis­played at the MacArthur Mu­seum of Arkansas Mil­i­tary His­tory.

From a pri­vate col­lec­tion

The mes­sage is clear in this poster to sup­port Al­lied war re­lief dur­ing World War II. Magic real­ism painter Bernard Per­lin is the artist.

From a pri­vate col­lec­tion

Help­ing the peo­ple of Fin­land was the fo­cus of this poster by marine artist Wor­den Wood.

From a pri­vate col­lec­tion

Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios cre­ated a poster fea­tur­ing Don­ald Duck and Mickey Mouse for United China Re­lief.

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