Poster Children


Image result for world war 1

President Wilson’s Committee on Public Information for promoting America’s role in World War 1 was headed by George Creel, a Missouri newspaperman, who directed its 37 different divisions.  One of these, “Pictoral Publicity,” produced more than 1,000 designs for posters, cartoons and sculptures that are left for us to ponder a century later.

Image result for world war 1 posters with children

A wide variety of artists worked on the posters, many of which are stunning examples of Art Nouveau.  Hues of varying shade and intensity jump from the paper, advertising the draft, bond drives, rationing and victory gardens.

Related image

There are so many, I chose to look at some with children as their subjects.  The colors used here are soft and happy.  Messages are lighter than the rest: help Uncle Sam (whose image was just making its debut) win, ask your daddy to buy war bonds, or help our daddy “over there” by doing the same.

Image result for world war 1 posters with children

What can we learn from this artwork, emphemera of history?  Certainly the design of these and more stark examples can be studied and even admired.  But the real lesson is in their intent.  Americans must do their duty.  Americans must help.  War is necessary for the good of all.

By using childish images to persuade adults, and making appeals to the youngest of audiences, did Creel cross the line?

The children of 1917 are gone.  Their children are almost gone.  The number and kinds of media which target today’s kids have exploded.  It takes even more care now to protect young minds from things on which adults have trouble making up their own.

A grave task it is, educating others about the ploys of mass media.









Step in Time

This ancient sandal was found in Oregon’s Great Basin.

When other fashion choices elude us, we can usually start with our hoard of shoes to dictate the right thing to wear.  Not so in prehistoric ages.  They were doing well to just protect their feet from the cold, wet, marshy terrain.  In 1938 close to a volcano at Fort Rock, Oregon, an archaeologist named Luther Cressman uncovered utilitarian sandals made of finely-woven sagebrush bark.  They were later carbon dated to 9,000 B.C. and remain the earliest known human footwear.

Pair of overshoes, 1550-1070 BC, Egypt, reed. From Major Myers collection. V&A: 865&A-1903

Egyptian “overshoes” from 1500 B.C. could double for small rafts on the Nile. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Looking at photos of shoes of the past is like looking at different people.  And the environments in which they lived.  In Egypt, reeds were woven into shoes.  The Japanese tied wooden clogs to their feet.

Image result for shoes of the Roman gladiators

Roman gladiator shoe from the First Century.  Museum of London Archaeology.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London maintains a collection of 2,000 pairs of shoes which document their place in history.  Oxfords began to be laced up in 1650 or thereabouts, but received their name on campus in England two hundred years later.  The university probably will never stop the tradition since the conservative world has adopted them as its trademark (Remember the opening segment of “My Three Sons?).


Louis XIV of France decreed that no man nor woman could wear heels higher than his own five-inch high embroidered silks.  The fancy trend stopped  during the French Revolution, but later resumed.  Left and right shoes came in about the mid 1800s.


Huron moccasins of deerskin, porcupine quills and metal.  Canada, ca. 1800.

Farmers, cowboys and soldiers on the American frontier couldn’t have gotten along without their leather boots; long or short, they’ve been popular since before the Middle Ages.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has these late Nineteenth Century riding boots from France on display. 

In 1917 the first Converse “all star training shoe” for basketball was advertised.  Chuck Taylor used to sell them by the boxful after his sports clinics.

Image result for first converse chuck taylor basketball shoe

World War I seems to be the benchmark for change in shoe styles, as it was for many other things.

1920 saddle shoes

1922 advertisement for saddle shoes.

Around 1935 Thomas Sperry observed his dog’s stability while walking on ice, and designed a boat shoe with grooves in the soles.  More recently there’ve been updated versions or outright copies of previous styles.  Gucci produced the loafer in 1953, but it was for formal occasions.  During the same decade, stilettos, named after a Sicilian fighting knife, became all the rage for women.

Image result for 1980 stilettos

The recent comeback of the stiletto makes this one look pretty tame.

Synthetic materials were made into cheap shoes after World War II, but also contributed to foot odor.  Rubber soles, glued instead of stitched to the uppers, have endured.

And in the future?  We can’t imagine giving up the comfort shoes which cater to baby boomers.  New Zealand company Allbirds currently touts an all-wool running shoe for men and women.  In these brand-name days, Nike, Birkenstock, Tom’s and Uggs do the talking.

There were several dozen sandals hidden in volcanic ash in the Fort Rock discovery of 1938.  The real question archaeologists have yet to answer, though, is: Were they from someone’s closet?  Or just on a clearance rack at the original DSW?

Putting a Curse on Cursive

For all the work I do at the computer keyboard, I still like to write by hand.  I’ve never held an old-fashioned fountain pen but I think that good quality ballpoints and fine felt tips are a pleasure to use.  There’s something about the tactileness of putting ink on paper in smooth swirls.  I lift my writing instrument at the end of words and at punctuation, which corresponds with my thought process.

There’s quite a debate going on over cursive writing and manuscript writing (printing).  Some say cursive, the form taken by the original Constitution and Declaration of Independence, is not necessary today.  These can be read on a page or screen where they’ve been transferred to one typeface or another.

Um.  That might be OK if the founding documents of our country were the only things ever looped and undercurved, but they were not.  Generations have recorded their lives in cursive writing.  Do we really want to chuck it like we did butter churns and eight-track tapes?  Are we going to put it in the category of foreign languages for which translation is necessary?  Maybe we’ll soon have electives in high school for cursive writing, like we do French and Spanish.  That makes so much sense.  Oh — some suggest that handwriting be delegated to Art class in elementary school, which will make the same people happy when they get rid of Art and Music altogether.

Part of pro-cursive rationality is that it is more efficient than printing.  Rounded and connected letters don’t require the pen or pencil to leave the paper within a word, like the old “ball and stick” marks do.  Some have told me they can print as fast as they can write.  I think I claimed that too, at one point.

When I was in charge of a classroom, handwriting was a great get-going activity in the morning before the bell rang.  I’d give kids samples tied to history or science, and urge them to take their time turning out the best paper they could.  Seeing their legibility improve over the year gave all of us satisfaction; individuality was honored and appreciated.  Yes, there are times and places for printing, and for typing on a computer.  There are just as many for cursive writing.

I turn a black-and-white picture over to read where it was taken, when it was taken, and on whom the camera was focusing.  That’s in cursive.  I look for a recipe of my mother’s.  That’s in cursive.   I research letters and journals of a prominent 19th Century American family at an academic library.  They are, too, in cursive.  I sign my name at the bottom of a house mortgage or car loan, for Pete’s sake.  In cursive!  My signature is part of who I am.  We should give kids the opportunity to have cursive writing be part of who they are, too.