From the great Wild West shows of the turn of the century to the subway drawings of Keith Haring, American lithography has captured the mythology and ethos of the country. The following posters encapsulate a century of great American design.
Founded in 1886, the Walter L. Main circus was an offshoot of a series of failed family sideshow businesses dating back to the 1870s. Its first official show debuted in Geneva, Ohio, and quickly became profitable as it traveled the country. Here, a young lion tamer with an Annie Oakley sensibility shows off her menagerie of wild cats and dogs as part of the “thrilling jungle drama” called “Beauty and the Beast—Or a Fight for Life.”
Grover George (1887-1958), an Ohio native, began performing as a magician when he was only 10. He continued to perform at small theatres across the United States, then left with his company of 18 for a five-year tour of Central and South America. He returned to the States in 1929 flushed with success, and expected to storm the theatres of his own country. This spectacular poster is one of the designs created for that “triumphant American tour.” But that triumph was out of reach—the magician Howard Thurston was intent on maintaining his territory, and brought suits against George whenever he attempted to book a venue of any distinction. Although these suits were, in fact, frivolous, George did not have the necessary funds, and was relegated to playing second-rate stages. He returned to South America, making occasional minor trips back to the U.S., and died in São Paolo, Brazil, where he had retired. The uncredited artist lures us into the “The Celebrated Hong Kong Mysteries” with a cast of men and birds swirling around an eerie Buddha statue.
“In 1908 [Buffalo Bill] was no longer at the height of his career, but he is surely sitting tall in the saddle, firmly in control of any situation, and his steadfast gaze seems to be one which looks forward, as if to say, ‘The show must go on,’ and at the same time pensively looks back to a life full of the kind of action that no one would ever live through again. Doffing his Stetson with one hand he is both welcoming us and bidding us farewell; what matters is that the other hand is firmly holding the reins. There’s no question about it, this is ‘the classic Cody’” (Buffalo Bill, p. 16).
By Joseph C. Leyendecker (1874-1951)
As her husband died five years prior, this poster announces the first time Mrs. Rogers released intimate information about her life with the famed American star.
By Norman Rockwell (1849-1978)
“Perhaps the most representative of Rockwell’s war covers are those in the Willie Gillis series… Rockwell has said that this series grew out of his interest in ‘the plight of an inoffensive, ordinary little guy thrown into the chaos of war. He was not to be an avid, brave, blood-and-guts soldier, though a perfectly willing—if somewhat ineffective—one.’ …[Here] we find Willie at a USO party, bearing up under the ministrations of two attractive volunteer workers. Willie Gillis may be a ‘somewhat ineffective’ soldier, but if we are to judge by the glimpses of his career that Rockwell gives us, he is remarkably effective in his dealings with the fair sex” (Rockwell’s America, p. 198-199).
“Is this real?” That’s the first question we receive on this magnificent work. The answer is yes—it was. The Sutro Baths, founded in 1896, were situated on Point Lobos, San Francisco, not far from the Cliff House. The brainchild of the German immigrant and self-made millionaire Adolphe Sutro, the rococo palace housed seven swimming pools (one freshwater, six saltwater) plus 517 changing rooms, and could accommodate an unfathomable 7,400 bathers. This rare six-sheet billboard provides a panoramic view of the interior with exquisite detail. The Sutro Baths survived until 1966, when a demolition crew began work dismantling the structure for a new multi-use compound, and one of their crew members set the building on fire. Ironically, the blaze started with a pile of old posters. The project was then abandoned, but its ruins can still be seen, and it has a historical marker on Google Maps, identified by this very poster. This work has aroused an extraordinary amount of interest, so do not hesitate on the diving board.
This artist’s proof (numbered 17/25) commemorates the Apollo 14 moon landing and is hand-signed by each of its crew members: Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Stuart A. Roosa, and Edgar D. Mitchell. This expedition marked the third American moon landing and the first to land in the lunar highlands. The three astronauts explored the Fra Mauro formation, named for the 15th-century Italian monk and mapmaker. And while the crew made notable scientific contributions, they also had a bit of fun: Shepard famously hit two golf balls off of the moon’s surface.
By Elisha Brown Bird (1867-1943)
“’The Poster,’ commissioned by William Clemens as the first poster for his magazine of the same name, was also called ‘Miss Art and Miss Litho.’ Collectors could order a copy for fifty cents post-free… The same design was printed in different colors for the covers of the March, April, and May issues” (Lauder, p. 103). Bird studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but opted to draft illustrations and posters instead of buildings.
By William H. Bradley (1868-1962)
Will Bradley, named “The Dean of American Designers” by the Saturday Evening Post, was the highest-paid American artist of the early 20th century. Known, occasionally, as “the American Aubrey Beardsley” (though he was an established artist before Beardsley became popular), he pioneered the American two-dimensional style of posters, drawing on Japanese block printing and the Arts and Crafts Movement. This gorgeous poster, advertising a biweekly magazine in Chicago, is in the collections of MoMA. This variant includes additional text that reads: “Chicago’s new paper in which will appear a series of colored frontispieces by Will H. Bradley.”
By Milton Glaser (1929-2020)
Glaser wrote of this work, “This poster was conceived as a fold-out bonus for Eye, a magazine that sought to combine youth, hipness, and establishment advertising. The forms make reference to both Art Deco and Matisse. I am fond of the relationship between the large and small forms and of the way the lettering echoes the portrait’s decorative sense. I was concerned with expressing power and energy. Working from photographs as source material for portraiture is an ongoing problem for designers and illustrators. The insistence of the original photographic source often makes itself detrimentally felt in the final work. Another problem is capturing likeness. I’m not highly skilled at it and try to compensate with other kinds of graphic input” (Glaser, p. 26). Rare!
By Joseph J. Gould, Jr. (1880-1935)
She may be surrounded by the dispatches of potential paramours, but this young woman stays true to her love of Lippincott’s.
By Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Referencing his own playful chalk drawings in New York’s subway stations, Haring announces his first exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Soho. This exhibition marked the beginning of their ongoing relationship, with Shafrazi becoming Haring’s gallerist thereafter.
By Edward Penfield (1866-1925)
Imagine: it’s New York City in November of 1906. Dusk falls early. The stylish Manhattanite is late to her soirée, but her Borzoi must first be walked. The leash is unnecessary; they strut down 6th Avenue, turning heads as they hustle onward with sophisticated determination.
By Paul Rand (1914-1996)
The design legend Paul Rand created his first logo for IBM in 1956, but this poster for the tech company’s 1981 international design conference remains his most iconic work—and one of the most treasured graphic designs in the corporate world. The rebus “Eye-Bee-M” was meant to support IBM’s motto of “THINK”: “An Eye for perception, insight, vision; a Bee for industriousness, dedication, perseverance; an ‘M’ for motivation, merit, moral strength.” It received such an enthusiastic reception that the company reprinted the image as an advertisement for national distribution. This, however, is the version first presented at IBM’s 1981 design conference.
By Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
In 1983, Warhol created a variety of images for Perrier, each taking the product and elevating it through his signature use of silkscreen color-washing. “These posters were intended for publicity in bistros and cafés in France. They won the French poster Grand Prix in 1983, the only award Warhol ever received for his work as a poster artist” (Warhol Posters, p. 85). This is the fuchsia image in the smaller format.
In-gallery viewing February 24-March 25 (11am-6pm daily)