Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Strut Your Stuff!

Last night, after a Murder She Wrote Marathon (just kidding), I was watching the Antiques Road Show, which happens to be somewhat nostalgic for me because I used to watch it with my dad when I was little and we would guess how much something would be worth... Anyway, this man had a small collection of about 12 posters, called Work Incentive posters, from the 1920s. I was really drawn in by these incredible, brilliantly-colored posters, featuring catchy slogans and amazing graphic images. So, I did a little research and discovered the cool history behind the pretty posters. I thought you may want a mini-edgeamacation of your own, so...
(my commentary is the tiny bold print at the end of a few paragraphs - I wish I could have somehow superimposed my handwritten scribbles on the info because of course, that would look much cooler, but oh well...)

"The Mather Work Incentive Posters, are striking and unique American posters printed in Chicago between 1923 and 1929. The posters were designed to improve worker productivity and curb turnover during a time of economic expansion and plentiful jobs. The traditional American virtues the posters promote are as relevant today as they were 80 years ago and represent a unique chapter in American advertising and economic history.

While the posters can be seen as workplace propaganda or camp Americana, they are perhaps most interestingly viewed as a visual expression of the idealism and optimism of the rising nation. President Calvin Coolidge pithily summed up in two sentences the ideology of the era in his 1925 speech to the Society of American Newspaper Editors: "The chief business of the American people is business...The chief ideal of the American people is idealism."
How complicated the world has become...

This attitude sparked a movement known as Welfare Capitalism, in which employers voluntarily offered incentives such as reduced hours, higher wages, health insurance, and paid vacations in return for greater productivity and worker loyalty, while blunting the arguments of labor unions and socialists.

Charles Mather, a Chicago-based printer seeking to use up excess capacity, saw opportunity in the movement and started selling factory owners subscriptions to his poster series. The annual "campaigns" found ready acceptance in a workplace accustomed to Madison Avenue advertising techniques in government production posters recently seen during World War I. Mather's series however, was the first widespread employer sponsored program with the goal of corporate success and employee development.

Outstanding American artists such as Willard Frederick Elmes and Hal Depuy were commissioned to boldly employ familiar images such as racing trains, running football players, and mischievous clowns alongside simple and direct headlines. Many of Mather's artists were heavily influenced by the "Plakatstil," or Poster Style, made famous in Germany by Lucian Bernhard and Ludwig Hohlwein. The clean lines of the 1929 Mather posters in turn anticipated the streamlined and dynamic Art Deco designs that would dominate the next decade.
That is incredible... he probably had no idea just HOW influential he would be.

Artist Frank Beatty's "The Perfect Finish" (1929) depicts a sailing crew hard at work during a boat race. The subtitle, a classic example from Mather's lexicon, warns, "No job's done till it's ALL done," succinctly communicating through word and image the need for teamwork to beat the competition.

Also featured is Hal Depuy's poster featuring bold imagery from America's favorite pastime, baseball. "Over the Plate!" (1929) depicts a pitcher in mid-throw and states, "Winners never have to say they're good - their work proves it. RESULTS TALK." The baseball metaphor plays directly to the American worker, who knew the difference between a pitcher who throws balls or strikes.

Employers changed the posters weekly based on current events, holidays or factory problems. A catalog organized the posters by theme, with cautionary categories ranging from laziness, responsibility, mistakes, and rumors to fire prevention and even practical joking. With their fresh graphics, surprising metaphors and over-the-top but thought-provoking platitudes, the posters demanded attention.
How much do you love the "cautionary categories" - ha!

Mather created approximately 350 different images in seven annual campaigns before the series ended abruptly with the stock market crash in October of 1929. By January 1930, jobs were increasingly hard to find, and employers did not have the funds or the need to motivate workers as they had in the Twenties.

"Our exhibition of Mather's posters is timely as we reexamine our national values in this election year," comments gallery owner Jim Lapides. "Even today we are struck by their graphic beauty, old fashioned American imagery and homespun wisdom. Although they reflect on an era with different challenges, their message of idealism and working smart is both refreshing and inspiring."

These are just a few of the posters I thought were exceptionally pretty, it's funny how all of these slogans still apply today. I would LOVE to hang one of these beauties on my wall as a reminder to "strut my stuff" or that "hoping beats moping".


emily said...

SUCCESSORIES: the beginning.

Louise/T30SB said...

These are awesome Allison!

felicia said...

So cool!!!