Every picture tells a story: War posters coming to Morristown’s Simon Gallery, April 27

The Simon Gallery  in Morristown is known for abstract art. Every piece shown there is open to endless interpretation, which is how owner Harry Simon likes it.

So regular patrons are in for a jolt on April 27, 2013.

Vintage posters from both World Wars will be displayed, and their messages are explicit: Buy War Bonds!  Support the War Effort!  Beat Hitler!

Steve Berger is curating an exhibition of vintage posters from both World Wars, at Morristown's Simon Gallery on April 27, 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Steve Berger is curating an exhibition of vintage posters from both World Wars, previewing at Morristown's Simon Gallery on April 27, 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“When people needed to get a message across in those days, there was no other choice but art,” said Steve Berger, who will be exhibiting favorites from a meticulously preserved collection.

“Posters became the primary vehicle for reaching the masses. The artists were household names, they were celebrities.”

Some posters became iconic. Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, painted for The Saturday Evening Post, sold millions of dollars of war bonds. Now–All Together by C.C. Beale famously depicted Marines hoisting the flag on Iwo Jima. And Americans still recognize James Montgomery Flagg’s World War I poster of Uncle Sam declaring I Want You!

“It’s going to be a wonderful exhibit. They’re beautiful,” Harry Simon said of the posters.

April 27 at 6 pm is the first of several previews; posters also will be shown on the evenings of May 17, May 24 (at the Hyatt Morristown) and June 21, in advance of exhibitions at the Simon Gallery from July 3-6, July 12-14 and July 19-21.

Original lithoprints will be offered at prices generally ranging from $300 to $1,500. A portion of each sale will benefit Community Hope, a Parsippany-based charity that works to prevent homelessness of veterans.

The posters were collected and carefully stored by David Orzeck, a Brooklyn doctor. When he died in 1985, his daughter Lida assumed oversight.  It took her awhile to convince Steve, a family friend in South Orange, to curate the collection.

“I hear ‘posters,’ and I think rock posters, or French posters, not knowing that she had 800 incredibly beautiful posters,” said Steve, a former reporter in New England.

Vintage War Posters was born.

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BACON GREASE AND BULLETS

The project has tested Steve’s journalistic skills.  After getting up to speed on dozens of illustrators, he had to learn art conservation techniques to preserve the lithographs, which were printed on inexpensive paper during the wars.

Although they were mass-produced, few pristine prints remain, Steve said. Many were posted outdoors and ruined by weather. Others were marred by tape. Virtually all of them were folded for shipment through the mail.

Steve said he hopes visitors come away from the exhibit with an appreciation of “how different that era was–yet how connected we still are. Each poster tells a story. As a collection, they tell a complete story.”

In World War II, it was a story of almost universal support to defeat evil, he said. Every poster addressed some facet of that effort–right down to saving your bacon grease, for conversion to ammunition.

As for the show venue, Steve said he was delighted to learn that the Simon Gallery takes a summer hiatus and can be rented.

“There are not that many really good galleries in our area,” Steve said. “He has a really great, New York-style gallery, with big ceilings and a minimalist feel.”

Steve may try to commandeer some World War II vehicles to park outside the show. And don’t be surprised if you hear recordings of the Andrews Sisters playing inside. But that’s all window-dressing. The posters speak for themselves, in Steve’s opinion.

“This is art, and art should be at a gallery. These are not posters as we look at posters now. In those days, they made art for posters. They should be seen by people who appreciate art. So this is a great fit with Harry.”

 



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