From time to time, we deal with items that are considered “Found in Collection” pieces. This doesn’t mean that we never knew these items existed and just came across them suddenly. (Although this does happen occasionally) Typically these things were dropped off by an anonymous donor or left behind after a curator moved on to retirement or another institution. So we end up with things without a history of ownership or use. Sometimes, we don’t even know for sure what the heck the item is and have to spend a great deal of time doing research to figure it out.
Recently, 32 World War II posters became the latest Found in Collection items to gain our attention. For the last 59 years they have been stacked in drawers and labeled “unaccessioned” or non-collection pieces. They originally were donations from the Virginia War Museum that we received in 1954. Over the years, curators knew they existed, but no one considered them good additions to the collection. Probably because some were duplicates of posters we already owned. Or maybe because of the fragile nature of the paper and the large sizes involved. While some posters were as small as 8 x 10, others are larger than 40 inches tall. It may seem strange, but the long term and undisturbed storage is one of the best things that could have happened to the posters.
Because they remained undisturbed for so long, the posters were protected from light and handling. So in 2013 the colors are just as vibrant as they were when they were first printed. The dark, ominous colors of a war scene and the bright, cheery look of a patriotic family still can evoke the emotions the artists intended to produce in their viewers.
Each and every piece also is a fascinating look at life in the 1940s and a reminder of the sacrifices demanded by the government and the necessity to equip and outfit military forces overseas. And yes, a look at obvious propaganda.
A recruiting poster urging men to enlist in the Navy shows a healthy little girl, a glamorous wife and modest home. All reminders that there were families to protect. Close ups of the faces of soldiers and sailors don’t show the ravages of war, but the dedication and determination expected. Dark colors on posters related to war, the enemy, and hard work. Lighter colors showed happy soldiers and sailors toiling at jobs they enjoyed and happy parents and spouses who were so proud of the necessary sacrifices being made.
Photos of these fascinating pieces will follow in other blogs as the process to accession them into our collection continues. So stay tuned.