Inside Warner’s lantern slide box #72, sandwiched between a series of slides featuring World War 1 recruitment posters, are images of a Japanese artist pressing spinning clay on a throwing wheel (“Man making clay vase,” GBW Collection, Lantern Slides, PH14 Box 72 21-23). Shot in profile as he concentrates on his work, the artist’s mouth is agape. His sinewy muscles strain with care. The slides are undated and the artist is unknown. Thus far, Warner’s collection has not revealed details about either the artist or the moment, and the viewer is left guessing about the images’ context. For instance, did she or her husband, Murray, purchase art from the potter? Did they ask to take his photo? Her enthusiasm for cross-cultural exchange and art leads this author to speculate that she took the photographs to document the act of artifice for an audience back home in the U.S. But that is left unsaid in the box.
Also left out of the box are details about the 33 WWI posters. As they stand, the majority of poster slides are photograph transparencies, some ink-tinted, of printings of hand-drawn and photographic artwork created between 1914 and 1917. Most of the posters were funded and produced by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee (PRC) of London and then printed by Searscant Bros. Ltd., and the PRC used them to alert the passersby to Britain’s time of need. The collection also includes several posters targeting French and Canadian viewers, some of which were produced by the Comite Secour National and other government agencies.
When the photographer captured the posters, some appear to have been pinned to walls and others were flattened across a surface. Once captured, they were transferred to transparencies and, later, a hand-tinting artist would bring them to life, in much the same manner as had been done for the Japanese ceramicist. Finally, they were sandwiched into their final viewing state, taped between fragile glass. Be it the potter or the posters, each slide, once shot across a darkened room with the light of a turn-of-the-century Magic Lantern, would cast a vibrant story against a viewing surface. The eyes of the audience would focus upon the images and listen to the guiding description of the presenter. We do not have Warner’s presentation script or her or Murray’s notes to help describe what might have been said with each slide. A brief study of two examples reveals some of the interesting details left out of Box 72.
Published in 1920, Martin Hardie’s War Posters Issued by Belligerent and Neutral Nations, 1914-1919 lends a contemporaneous and avowedly British perspective of Warner’s poster slides. Explaining the best form for conveying Britain’s need for recruits, Hardie belays, “the poster… should compel attention; grip by instantaneous appeal; hit out, as it were, with a straight left. It must convey an idea rather than a story (8).” And Hardie’s sentiment is certainly true for many of Warner’s poster slides. For instance, one poster, featuring the profile of an adult male dressed in fine clothing standing before an older female figure looks expectantly at the man. She rests her right arm on the man’s shoulders and gestures to the distance with her left. It declares “GO!” “IT’S YOUR DUTY LAD,” and “JOIN TO-DAY.” Tinted a with mustardy backdrop heightening the contrast of the dark figures and the white letters, the poster surely drew attention, and the positioning of the motherly hand beneath the shock-white “Go!” states a clear goal. The narrative of the figures exemplifies an archetypal idea: a son’s/citizen’s duty to his motherland.
Another poster, published in 1915, by the French printer Devambez requested gold to aide France in the fight against the German Empire. “Deposit your gold for France; Gold fights for Victory” the text insists. At center, a giant gold coin–the only tinting added to this transparency–is embossed with a rooster, representative of France, straining to attack a surprised german soldier below. The coin appears to be falling down upon the soldier, and, essentially, the tableau implies that with the increased weight of gold invested France would win the war. The war had taxed the French economy, and the government sought an injection of civilian cash to purchase much needed supplies. Said to have approached “greatness” in artistry by Hardie (19), renowned French illustrator and cartoonist Jules Abel Faivre (1867–1945) was responsible for its creation.
Stepping back from Box 72 with its Western images of war and artworks from the East one can not help but place this juxtaposition of destruction and creation in line with Warner’s collection philosophy and the interwar period in which she developed it. On one hand, the poster slides are an anomaly, though she occasionally shot U.S. and Chinese soldiers, portraits of warriors and samurai (侍), and weapons. But the primary focus of the lantern slides is art and architecture and Asian culture, whether she photographed them or purchased them from Frederick Starr, T. Takagi or Futaba and Co. of Kobe, or another outlet. On the other, poster’s artistic quality fit snuggly alongside the Japanese ceramicist’s work at the pottery wheel. Her education and wealth allowed her the privilege of traveling, experiencing, and collecting aspects of societies different from her own, and her mission to introduce and educate her fellow Westerners through objects and lantern slides attempted to bridge cultural divisions.
The entirety of the Gertrude Bass Warner lantern slides are currently in the process of digitization, a joint digital humanities project sponsored by UO Libraries SCUA, the DSC and Oregon Digital, and the CAPS, available here.
A digital copy of Hardie’s study of WWI wartime posters is available here.