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Patriotic Themes in Art and Design

Throughout history one of the predominant themes for art is patriotism. Today's serif typography found its origins on the walls and gates of cities as conquering Roman armies told of their victories in stone. The Trajan Column probably exemplifies the style best of all. Through the ages, stories and images of great leaders and great armies are preserved for us through the visual arts.

While those great paintings, sculptures and bias reliefs were generally reserved for royalty, the masses got in on political and patriotic art when lithographic printing emerged and flourished. The earliest examples were cut in stone or brass as engravings, probably first for currency and official documents; then for newspapers and all manner of printed works.

Etchings such as these were produced in a vast quantities by artists and engravers all around the world. The Franklin Foundry seemed to proliferate the most. One collection book I own contains literally thousands of examples -- all different -- most in a patriotic theme. They have been pillaged far and wide, scanned from collections such as the Ron Yablon Graphics Archives, digitized in great numbers as far back as the earliest days of Compuserve, Delphi and America Online.

flag Today we see the images of patriotism on everything from automobiles and swimsuits to fonts and the movies. Society fell in love with the Red, White and Blue. At left you see just one of thousands of flag motif clips you can download directly from the web. As is expected, the theme is prolific in all kinds of venues from fine arts to ugly clip art. Everyone wants to jump on the patriotic band wagon with zeal.

Art For The People

From sea to shining sea we can find all manner of visual expressions depicting a love for one's country...

Whether sophisticated photographic expressions or oil paintings, you can expect to find just about any visual pleasure you desire at the hundreds of arts fairs, gallery shows and exhibitions around the country. (See bibliography at the end of this article.)

Art By The People

enduringOne of the most incredible pieces we found in our search for patriotic art is one called Enduring Freedom, a large lithograph (you can purchase) depicting more than 175 individual images carefully arranged into a 20' x 16' montage. The work is marketed by Miraculous Manufacturing, the artist is unknown. This detailed work of original art is a salute to the great people, places and events that helped shape the American heritage. As you study the work, you see images from culture, heros, celebrities, America and the U.S military. From Native Americans to the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, Neil Armstrong reporting "the Eagle has landed " to the Statue of Liberty, this is one incredible piece. You'll even see a '56 T-Bird, and a '57 Chevy; two pieces of true Americana. While the art is not expertly drawn, it is clear and certainly represents a huge effort on the part of the artist as this detail testifies. Thank goodness they also supply a key to the art listing each of the individual images and where they are found. You can see more at: american-patriotic-history-poster.us

The True Test of Time

Lady FreedomProbably the most memorable genre of patriotic art however is found in the world of war Posters. With the advent of war, all people pull together to support their country. As seen in "Lady Freedom" (at left), a World War 1 recruiting poster, artists took to heart the challenges of mobilizing their countrymen.

This famous poster: Jules Abel Faivre's "On les aura!" ("We'll get 'em!") is immortalized on the "Graphic Images" web page of Steve Kerr, Professor of Education and Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Education at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington. Kerr comments:
      The romantic image of war as an innocent contest among idealistic youth is captured supremely in this 1916 example from France, which not coincidentally also encourages the viewer to subscribe to the Second National Defense Loan..
At Kerr's web page, you'll find many other examples of patriotic posters from around the world.

From the National Archives of Canada comes this stirring recruitment poster "Your Chums Are Fighting, Why Aren't You?" by C.J. Patterson as a call to arms for those who were not eager to fight in the First World War. Women play an important roll in patriotic art as well, as seen in this World War I Navy Recruitment Poster "Gee, I Wish I Were A Man" by Howard Chandler Christy -- seen in the Columbia.edu Gallery.

New Styles Emerge

During America's first and second world wars, two artists would emerge which shaped the styles and attitudes toward illustration for decades to come. Their styles were distinctive and started a trend which would continue into the post war periods -- and would endure well into even today's advertising art and design communities. Those artists are, of course, James Montgomery Flagg and J.C. Leyendecker.

Next: Flagg & Leyendecker Tribute


Bibliography is at the bottom of page 3

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