WWI propaganda posters at the Huntington reflect an era

More than 40 WWI propaganda posters are on display at the Huntington to reflect the sentiments of the era

This month marks the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of World War I, a time when President Woodrow Wilson championed neutrality — so much so that when he finally decided in 1917 that U.S. intervention was necessary, Americans were reluctant to join the global conflict.

Enter the Committee of Public Information's Division of Pictorial Publicity, headed by famed American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. He recruited some of the country's most prominent artists to create patriotic propaganda posters that encouraged participation in the war. These posters were displayed on billboards, in store windows, just about everywhere.

A sampling of these strikingly graphic works along with similar posters from Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire are on display in the exhibit "Your Country Calls! Posters of the First World War," opening Aug. 2 at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

"These posters certainly became a very important arm of propaganda," curator David H. Mihaly said. "They were very emotionally charged, and as such, were highly successful."

To create the show, Mihaly combed through the Huntington's collection of more than 700 World War I posters and ephemera to select 40 that he felt best represented the mood and psychology of the era. Extra attention is paid to homefront causes, including enlistment, fundraising and relief efforts as well as labor and conservation.

"The emphasis of the show is not on the history of World War I but rather on the causes that were fought for at home by civilian populations of men, women and children," Mihaly said of the images, which include images of Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam posing with the famous slogan "I Want You for U.S. Army."

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