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World War I-era Russian propaganda posters portray food as evil

By Alyse Camus

Food was in high demand during the First World War, especially in Russia. The food shortages were so constant that they were ultimately one of the factors that helped to incite the revolutions of 1917. Although seemingly minor compared to the famine Eastern Europe would later experience under Stalin, food shortages were instrumental in harvesting a deep resentment toward the tsar and general war weariness.

 

For everyday citizens, getting food in cities was a full-time job. It required spending long hours in line only to be rewarded with slim rations—and sometimes nothing at all. It would make sense to assume that all the food was going to soldiers at the front. However, by 1915, only a year into the war, the Russian Army was also suffering from the food shortage.

 

The Russian economy simply wasn’t equipped both to fight a war and feed its citizens. Young men left the countryside in droves after being conscripted into the army, severely cutting the available labor force and slowing agricultural production. Inflation as a result of the war then made it impossible for the remaining farmers to make a profit on their goods. No one could afford to grow food, and few could afford to buy enough of it. Food then became a prominent subject in Russian propaganda.

 

The Harry Ransom Center is home to the diverse collection of Kuharet’s Russian World War I posters. A surprising number of these prints pertain to food: specifically food that has been personified as evil. Even the act of eating food is portrayed as unpleasant—something that would likely have been incomprehensible to the starving nation.

 

Staples such as onions and potatoes morph into crude caricatures of Franz Josef, Wilhelm, and his sons, insisting that the evil of the Germans could only have grown in the garden of the devil himself. Another poster titled “Wilhelm’s Menu” replaces the expected food on the menu with violent actions against Wilhelm: showing him drowning, beaten, and left broken and alone. Posters such as these served to create negative connotations between food and eating.

 

Food was also strangely tied to nationalism, specifically in a series of posters titled “European Cuisine.” In this set, countries involved in the war are all personified as food: Germany and Austro-Hungary are both portrayed as conniving sausages, while Russia is equated to a hearty bowl of kasha (the Russian equivalent of porridge). While the sausages try in vain to consume the other “countries,” the kasha spills forth to overtake them. This poster is on view in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition The World at War, 1914–1918. The Russian kasha is made up of figures of soldiers—the only human characters on the poster. Even in posters real Russian food was lacking.

 

Food and the experience of eating were both portrayed as dangerous, violent, and unpleasant in a futile effort to make the starving Russian population forget the normalcy associated with these actions.

 

The Ransom Center’s collection of World War I-era propaganda posters have been digitized as part of the digital collections.

 

Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

In the Galleries: Frank Nicolet Lucien poster pays homage to poem “In Flanders Fields”

By Gabrielle Inhofe

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.

In the Galleries: Gordon Conway “Vanity Fair” cover illustration highlights shifting gender roles in World War I

By Gabrielle Inhofe

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.

Director of Amon Carter Museum discusses concept of “westering”

By Jane Robbins Mize

Andrew J. Walker, Director of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, presents “Westering America: Frontier Thinking and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art” for the 2013 Amon Carter Lecture on Thursday, December 5 at 7 p.m. at the Harry Ransom Center. The program will be webcast live at 7 p.m. CST.

 

In his talk, Walker will explore the concept of “westering,” which originated from the first director of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art as an innovative approach to the institution’s process of collecting. Borrowed from Frederick Jackson Turner’s famous 1893 declaration that the West had been won, the idea suggests that there was always a “west,” a frontier, from the very early days of America’s establishment. “Settlement,” whether in New England or Cincinnati or the west as it exists today, has been a thread that, 50 years later, reveals a subtle historical point of continuity that has guided the growth of the museum’s collection.

 

Below, Walker shares his thoughts on “westering,” regionalism, and his museum.

 

CC: What is “westering?” How is the concept related to the collecting focus of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art?

 

AW: The concept of “westering” gave a focus to the early collecting patterns of the Amon Carter Museum, when it was actually known as the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art.  In those early years, the leadership at the museum attempted to find a way to preserve Amon G. Carter’s interest in the American West—largely in the work of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell—as his principle focus. To carry out his vision, there had to be some acknowledgement of the West as a guiding principle. However, at the same time there was an ambition to be more inclusive of the American experience generally. The solution came about in the notion of “westering.” To the early settlers of our nation, the East was the West and the frontier proved to be a concept that began, for instance, at Plymouth Colony and over time moved progressively across the territory of the United States. In this spirit, the Amon Carter would build on the existing holdings and enlarge its scope to include the whole of the term “western.”

 

CC: How has the Amon Carter Museum of American Art explored regionalism in the past, and how is the museum’s perspective on the movement unique?

 

AW: Regionalism as a concept is one that has been episodic but consistent. It has, however, defined its spirit of innovation. As noted in the concept of “westering,” the collection has grown with an understanding of the deep connection people (of diverse backgrounds) have to the land in which they live. But more narrowly, the museum has taken moments to explore that idea more deeply and relevantly to Texas and its impact in the artistic growth of the country. Sometimes it took the form of acquisitions, such as the magical group of watercolors that Georgia O’Keeffe made while teaching in West Texas. They were acquired by the museum in 1966, after being shown for the first time in a major re-examination of the artist’s career that year. My favorite moment, however, came in the late 1970s when the museum commissioned Richard Avedon to explore the identity of the modern American West. The result was the photographer’s transformative series, “In the American West,” which came about through the museum’s particularly assertive stance and is still powerful today.

 

In the past couple of years, the museum has taken a slightly different approach, recognizing the more specific importance of Texas artists, not only to art history but to the communities of collectors who are drawn to regionalism as a focus. As a continuation of an initiative begun with the 2008 exhibition, Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s, the museum is mounting exhibitions of works in local collections of the best Texas art from the 1880s to the 1950s. Not only is this about great American art, but it is also about relationships of those individuals who find collecting to be rewarding.

 

CC: How did your personal interest in regionalism begin? How has it expanded?

 

AW: My interest in regionalism really started through the relationships with various collectors, particularly when I lived and worked in St. Louis, and the inspiration they found in local artists who influenced their collecting. This drew me to names of local artists with whom I was unfamiliar but who had made remarkable achievements in the art world.  That ultimately led to a large and important study of the artist Joe Jones, a midwestern social realist who in his day achieved great importance nationally, whose reputation and significant achievement had become lost, forgotten even to his children. The exhibition and book made me realize how significant it is to balance the regional in the national story of American art.

 

Image: Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986). Light Coming on the Plains No. I, 1917. Watercolor on newsprint paper. 11 7/8 x 8 7/8 inches. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.