The Art of War

by Erin Thursby
Built around an incredible collection of WWII war effort posters, the Art of War Exhibition at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens would be worth a look for both the graphic art enthusiast and the historically minded.
The collection got started by Major General Gerald Stack Maloney, Jr., whose desire to own these posters was sparked by the ambition to become an air force pilot. Gerry was just nine years old, standing on a bluff on Cape Cod Bay, when a T-40 plane buzzed the beach, right at his eye level. He waved to the pilot, the pilot did a wing-over, came back again and they waved at each other. That was the moment that Maloney decided what he wanted to be when he grew up: “And I said, ‘I want to be a fighter pilot. I’m going to be a fighter pilot.’”
Then, when his father’s business got a war poster to put up, Gerry wrote the governmental agency responsible for printing that particular poster to get more posters. As he was crazy about airplanes, he wrote in the hopes that he would get a poster with a plane on it. Despite not getting what he wanted to begin with, he thought the posters were interesting, so he began collecting them, writing to multiple agencies responsible for printing the posters each week throughout the war. The result was an astounding collection of more than 200 posters.
Maloney himself is as engaging his collection, as he tells the story of his path to becoming a fighter pilot despite tremendous odds. He was dyslexic before anyone knew what that meant and part of two fingers and a thumb was blown off when he was young. There was no room for disability of any kind at a time when fighter pilots were supposed to be perfect.
As to the posters themselves, they are riveting and surprisingly relevant. Posters encouraging recycling, women in the workforce and even one of an African-American Vet, who worked on the factory line after he was sent home for injuries, all seem fresh and progressive for our perception of the times. But these messages are contrasted by somewhat religious or highly politically incorrect messages that would never be printed by a government agency today. The caricature of the Japanese, a Nazi uniformed hand plunging a knife into a Bible and images of crosses are all memes that serve to separate that time from this.
The messages are clear and dramatic for a reason. Their aim, says Cummer Curator Holly Keris was “to inspire, engage, scare or otherwise mobilize Americans who were here on the home front.” Some use simple lines and could have been drawn up by a design student today. Others show their age or a sentimentality that rings sincere, perhaps because of the time. One of Gerry’s favorite posters is that of a Spaniel dog laying on couch waiting for a master who never came home from the war.
In the back of the exhibition, you’ll find a video slide show tribute to our local military men and women. These are all photos submitted to the museum when the Cummer asked the community for family photos of the our soldiers. The presentation has images from current military life to black and white photos from conflicts past.