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"Why We Fought" WWI exhibition opening reception celebrates student work, sparks timely discussion

Students at WWI exhibition opening

On September 7, the USM Art Department & Galleries celebrated the exhibition opening reception of "Why We Fought: American WWI Posters and the Art of Persuasion" at the AREA Gallery in Portland.

Howard SolomonThe exhibition is comprised of a collection of 13 WWI posters that were gifted to USM Special Collections by retired Tufts history professor, Howard Solomon, who came across the posters as they were being swept along the floor of an auction barn into a dustbin. Solomon purchased the posters for five dollars each. "These are documents as much about social change and gender, and the contstruction thereof, as they are about America's involvement in WWI," he said.

USM student Shannon Sockalexis created a black and white cartoon mural for the exhibition that depicts the start of WWI, of which Solomon said "everything you need to know about outbreak of WWI is on that (mural)."

muralThe exhibition also features a selection of excerpts from “PRINT POWER! vol. 3,” an annual open propaganda poster exchange portfolio and distribution network between art faculty and their students from neighboring institutions between Portland and Boston. The project, co-organized by USM Art Department faculty Damir Porobic and Brian Reeves, professor of art at SMCC, Boston College and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, is in its third year. Learn more about "PRINT POWER! vol. 3" here.

The exhibition will evolve as the semester progresses, adding a new selection of excerpts from "PRINT POWER! vol. 3" and digital images of Maine WWI memorials taken by USM History professor Libby Bischoff's WWI: Politics, Culture, Memory class from October 12 through November 10. In addition to documenting WWI memorials in the state of Maine for the 100th anniversary of the United States' involvement in WWI, her students also researched the contexts of the poster collection and wrote the historically accurate labels that accompany each one.

posters"This is exciting work for us," Bischoff said. "Learning to be a historian is best done not by reading books and reading texts and listening to words, but it's the active duty of being a historian, and that's what Howard's donation really affords to us—this act of doing history, of being historians, of interpreting the past for the general public."

A third round of student work will be on display from November 13 through December 8, replacing "PRINT POWER, vol. 3" with a digital class presentation by adjunct lecturer Nathan Steven, and adding selections of WWI art images from Donna Cassidy’s ARH 327 Modern Art class.

Learn more about this exhibition and USM Art Galleries here.

Katie Matzell, Office of Public Affairs