Propaganda and purpose

Call to Duty and Tears of Stone exhibits at DAI

By Joyell Nevins

Photo: Glenn Grothe, American, 1912–1956, He’s Watching You, 1942, color lithograph

Before there was “Be All You Can Be” or “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” there was a bearded man in a top hat, pointing directly at his viewers, saying “I Want YOU.”

This picture of Uncle Sam was joined by many other images of people in uniform or patriotic symbols, calling comrades to take pride in, and stand up for, their country. Sometimes to fight on the front lines, sometimes to support on the homefront, but always to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To stir their souls with a sense of justice and honor. To answer the “Call to Duty.”

That purpose is what the Dayton Art Institute (DAI) in conjunction with the National Museum of the United States Air Force and the American Red Cross is celebrating in the summer exhibit A Call to Duty: World War Posters. The exhibit and accompanying showcases were brought to Dayton by DAI staff to honor the 100th anniversary of World War I (1914-1918).

Call to Duty comes from Reading Public Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania, which also organized DAI’s recent American Impressionism exhibit. Call to Duty features 85 original posters from World War I and World War II used for recruiting and funding for the Allied military. This event marks the first time the exhibit has been viewed outside of Reading—and the first time DAI has collaborated with the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Artists such as Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg, J. C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell all have contributions amongst these prints. The posters explore themes of recruitment into the armed services, funding of the wars through bonds and other methods, homefront efforts such as conservation and work ethic, campaigns by service organizations such as The Salvation Army, YMCA and Boy Scouts, as well as the general role women played in the war effort. American posters are augmented by examples from Canada, France, Great Britain and other Allied nations.

Reading received the majority of the posters as gifts from Captain Roswell C. Williams, Jr. in 1934. Williams was an entomologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and had ties to the then-director at Reading, also an entomologist who had attended the academy. Another gift of posters was received by the museum in 1958 by Raymond Schock. The total collection at Reading numbers more than 1,100 works. Call to Duty initially began simply as a project to document and photograph the collection, then turned into a way to display these works through a traveling exhibit (next stop: Stockton, California).

Reading’s Curator of Art and Civilization Scott Schweigert said that the cataloging project took two full summers of interns photographing, measuring, researching and data entering not only the war posters, but all of Reading’s works on paper.

When the exhibit finally opened at Reading in September 2014, it included authentic naval, airman and nurses’ uniforms, a few weapons, helmets and other war materials. Before its conclusion in January of this year, Schweigert said the show was visited by approximately 8,000 visitors and about 2,000 school children.

From cheers to tears

While the posters ring with patriotism and jubilance, they are tempered by a bleaker picture of war through a companion exhibit. DAI is also hosting Tears of Stone: Photographs by Jane Alden Stevens. Stevens is a renowned photographic artist and educator from Cincinnati. Her work has been mounted at the ARC Gallery in Chicago; the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York; and the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Gallery. She has exhibited extensively abroad, including in Finland, Ukraine, Belgium, Germany and Brazil. Stevens’ photographs are included in the permanent collections of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York, the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Museu da Imagem e do Som (Museum of Image and Sound) in São Paulo, Brazil.

Tears of Stone features several black and white photographs of European sites from some of the bloodiest battles of World War I, many of which now have memorials erected at them. In Stevens’ mission statement, she explains, “Because so many years have passed since the carnage of the First World War, do people in today’s world still care about those millions who died? If so, how is this caring expressed? A desire to answer these questions became the catalyst for this body of work, the results of which serve both as a reminder of the ongoing cost of historical events and as a mirror to the human condition.”

These photographs do not fit in a photo album. To add to the gravity of their impact, the pictures are presented in 30-by-60-foot prints.

“Because of their scale, they sort of envelop you,” says DAI Chief Curator Dr. Aimee Marcereau DeGalan.

DeGalan had learned of the collection several years ago from a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati, where Stevens is a professor emerita. DeGalan says she was struck by the power of the images but, due to the small number of photographs, was not able to initially bring it to the museum. When Call to Duty was chosen as a special exhibit, it was the perfect opportunity to showcase Stevens’s work as well.

Around the Tears of Stone exhibit is a ledge with cards for people to write on and leave as their own memorials. Thursday, Sept. 17, will also afford an opportunity to meet the photographer, when Stevens gives a special lecture at 6 p.m. in the NCR Renaissance Auditorium.

“The posters are strong, bold and heroic,” DeGalan says. “The photographs show the realities of war. The two [exhibits] pair well together.”

Keeping with the memorial and war themes, DAI has gathered several of its own works in the lower court galleries for War: Works on Paper from the Collection. There are approximately 20 different drawings, prints and other works on paper showcasing artistic interpretations of battle scenes, bombardments and soldiers. Some of the pictures glorify, and some condemn, the actions of war.

Beyond the print

But at DAI, it’s never just about the artwork. There is also a display of the journal of the late Ohio soldier Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. “Ace of Aces” Rickenbacker was from Columbus and was America’s top-scoring fighter pilot of World War I, with 26 victories and the survivor of a plane crash at sea during World War II. The Air Force Museum, already engaged in a major digitization effort, digitized Rickenbacker’s whole journal especially for DAI.

The Air Force Museum lent other related items for display as well and brought in their experts to train the DAI docents for the Call to Duty exhibit. The national museum’s Manuscript Curator Christina Douglass will also give a special lecture for the public called “Every Citizen as a Soldier: The Power of Posters in War” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20. The music piped in during the exhibit will be courtesy of the United States Air Force Band.

The American Red Cross has shared some of its nurse memorabilia from those wartimes with DAI for display as well. Attendees can also see trench art, such as soap carvings, which were primarily made by prisoners of war during their incarceration.

“It’s really powerful to think about the creative spirit in people,” DeGalan says.

That creative spirit extends to the DAI team as well. They have designed a family-friendly “Dayton Print Day” from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, in the Hale Cloister. Last year, in conjunction with a special glass exhibit, DAI’s education department hosted a “Glass Day” intended for the whole family.

“It was very well received, very successful, so we thought we would do it again,” DAI Educational Initiatives Coordinator Diane Stemper says.

Since all of the posters on display are color lithographs, Stemper explains they thought the public would be interested to know how that printmaking process works. The Dayton Printmakers Cooperative “graciously and excitedly” agreed to come on board.

There will be relief printing demonstrations and discussions of intaglio and letterpress printing (the presses are too big to bring in for demonstration, Stemper says). DAI is bringing its little tabletop press out for the public to see a plate being inked up and how that process works. DAI has the press in storage because the printmakers co-op actually used to be housed in DAI until the early ‘90s.

Attendees can bring a T-shirt and watch silkscreen printing in action, courtesy of the screen-printing company, Four Ambition. There will also be shirts screened on site for sale.

3-D printing will be demonstrated as well. Watch this new technology make a sculptural reproduction, thanks to the printing lab and Proto BuildBar.

And what would demonstrations be without one you can try? People of all ages can have fun making foam relief prints using pencils, foam and colored inks, Stemper says.

“There’s a lot to see and do, and lots of different ways to learn about printmaking,” Stemper says.

Both Call to Duty and Tears to Stone will run from July 4 (yes, DAI is staying open on that holiday specifically due to these exhibits) to Oct. 4. To book a docent-led tour of the special exhibition area, contact Donna Young at 937.512.0152 not the same number on the site or For more information, please visit

Exhibit admission is free for museum members, $14 for adults, $11 for seniors (60 and up), students (18 and up with ID), and active military and groups (10 or more) and $6 for youth (ages 7-17). Children 6 and under are free. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, and Sunday, noon – 5 p.m., with extended hours until 8 p.m. Thursdays.


Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at

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Joyell Nevins
Joyell believes in the power of the written word, a good cup of coffee, and sometimes, the need for a hug (please, no Tommy Boy references). Follow her on her blog “Small World, Big God” at or reach her at

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