The National Park Service turns 100 this year. Maybe you’ve heard?
The milestone is in print and in the digital world, turning up in publications and on TV screens and branding hashtags (#findyourpark).
A new book is adding to the mix, reinventing what helped bring our national parks to vivid, rugged life in the 1930s and onward: the iconic parks poster. “See America” from Chronicle Books is a colorful homage from artists to the country’s 75 national parks and sites.
The original See America park posters were born of the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Work Projects Administration put artists to work. They produced myriad posters from 1936 to 1943 on topics ranging from road safety to child health. The government saw the See America national parks series as an opportunity to educate and inspire a public in need of some nation-building.
Flash forward to 2014, when the Creative Action Network partnered with the National Parks Conservation Association and put out an open call to artists for a new See America series. Graphic artists were encouraged to reimagine, design and share their versions of the art-deco See America parks posters of old. The crowdsourced project has received more than a 1,000 entries, from which a diverse mix of 75 were picked for the book.
Diane Mullin, curator at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, was intrigued by the contemporary take on historical posters that have come to embody the notion of America the beautiful with their bold colors and clean aesthetic.
“It’s just a really interesting project, and (the posters) do definitely read as more contemporary even though they decided to use, not the same template, but the same style as was done in the ’30s,” she said.
Coincidentally, the project has some connections to the Weisman and the University of Minnesota. “Lust for Leisure,” a former Weisman exhibit, showed the museum’s international travel posters, which, too, leveraged the power of art to portray the romance of travel to a willing middle-class America.
Also, the U had a hand in distributing the WPA’s arts largesse in the 1930s, hiring and managing a broad spectrum of young artists, some of whom produced dozens of murals, lithographs and other imagery of the state.
As for the current-day posters compiled in the book, Mullin seemed most interested in the bold, graphic works — essentially modernized versions of their forebears, “the one that came up with graphic, modern solutions for a very limited thing … a poster that has to speak somehow, for people to see it in a quick glance in some ways.”
The poster for Ellis Island National Monument is a good example. Simple but modern, its heavy typography, dark tone, and line work straddle two worlds: the See America posters of old and some of the work Mullin said she increasingly sees from today’s graphic artists. What’s old is popular and trending.
“There is a bold, graphic style — I think very much the way we think now,” said Mullin. “At least in terms of posters, we are very affected by them. You don’t see very many posters that have that expressive or painterly quality (in the book). They are using the field in a way that is considered very modern. This is bold and communicative in a way for the populace to see it.”
Introducing the book, Creative Action Network founders Aaron Perry-Zucker and Max Slavkin said they are relying on the same communicative power Mullin referenced. “Like the WPA before us, we hope the See America project will inspire a new generation to visit, preserve, and protect our country’s natural treasures and shared heritage.”
Bob Timmons • 612-673-7899
Go to SeeAmericaProject.com to view and buy artwork.