Posters American Style

The digital exhibition Posters American Style provides a historical overview of 20th-century graphic images and their designers in the context of events, commercial endeavors, movements, and patriotism. The posters are all designed in the U.S. and come from private and public collections across the country. This digital exhibition is not marked with a date, but a Google search reveals that a coffee-table catalog of the same name was published in March, 1998. Curated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum to complement the Museum’s touring physical exhibition of the same name, this digital exhibition aims to highlight the similarities between the Internet and poster design:

Today, as web site designers seek vibrant graphic images and powerful, terse captions to appeal to mass audiences, the fundamental lessons of poster design seem more contemporary than ever. (Elizabeth Broun, Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum)

This exhibition can be divided into four parts, namely the welcome page, homepage, key section pages, and poster collection:

  • The welcome page contains a postcard-like image with the names of the exhibition and the Museum, a printer’s color bar, and a collage with the I Want You Uncle Sam poster and the poster of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. At the bottom are the logo of the Museum and two links: one to a list of the Museum’s other online exhibitions and another to the homepage of the Museum’s website. Clicking on the postcard-like image leads to the homepage.
  • The homepage functions as a table of contents. It has a navigation menu at the top and a site index below, both of which contain links to the four key sections: Introduction, The Posters, The Process, and The Impact. The navigation menu and site index also include links to the subsections of The Posters, which contain the bulk of the exhibition. The link to the Credits and Acknowledgements is only available on the site index.
“Homepage.” Posters American Style, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Accessed April 10, 2015.
  • Each of the key section pages has a similar layout; a search feature and links to the other key sections are placed on the header. The exhibition’s name on the header links back to the homepage whereas the Museum’s name links to the Museum’s website. There are links to the subsection pages on the left of the screen. Some of the key section pages contain dynamic “exhibits.” For example, The Process has an animated GIF of an offset press while The Impact has audio files of historical milestones such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream. However, the search feature and audio files no longer function, probably due to the outdated software that powers the exhibition.
“Key Section Page.” Posters American Style, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Accessed April 10, 2015.
  • The posters in the poster collection can be viewed one at a time. Information for each poster includes artist’s name and year of birth, client, printing technique, dimensions, and collection to which the poster belongs. The artist’s biography appears at the bottom of the page. Hovering the mouse over some posters results in the appearance of boxes that, when clicked, lead to enlarged details. An image index lists all 137 posters, divided into four categories examining the subject matters of posters: 1) leisure activities including film, sports, circuses, and cultural events, 2) consumer goods, 3) social issues and advocacy, and 4) war propaganda and patriotism.
“Poster Collection.” Posters American Style, Smithsonian American Art Museum. Accessed May 6, 2015.

The most prominent feature of this digital exhibition is its link accessibility. Almost every page contains various links placed in the header, sidebar, content, and site index. This allows the visitor to access the different exhibition parts at almost any point of a particular page, reducing unnecessary scrolling and tedious navigation from one page to another. However, the multitude of links – specifically links that lead to the same destination page – falsely conveys the existence of more pages than there actually are. This results in potential confusion and undermines the overarching linear structure of the content. Furthermore, in certain key sections such as The Process, there are links to subsections that are not listed on the homepage. The visitor will not be aware of these “hidden” subsections unless the visitor thoroughly explores the digital exhibition.

While the multitude of links reflects the abundance and range of American posters, it contradicts the leanness and conciseness of poster design. Ironically, Posters American Style lacks the fundamental lessons of poster design.


Preservation Digitalized: Florida Memory

On the Omeka website, the exhibition Florida Memory was showcased and described as one of the largest public Omeka collections.  The primary audience appears to be students and teachers who wish to learn more about Florida through historical and educational resources provided in the exhibition. It appears that the exhibition is managed by the Florida Department of State’s Division of Library and Information Services, so it is probably updated frequently and well-managed.

Upon clicking on the exhibition, it appears almost like tourism website for a small town.  There are categories of photographs, video, audio, collections, exhibits, and classroom.  These categories are displayed across the top of the website but also as large thumbnails taking up the majority of the center of the website on the homepage.  The thumbnails are useful, however, in that the photos provide a glimpse into what that section of the exhibition might entail.  Although it seemed redundant at first to have the categories displayed at both the top and center of the page, once I actually clicked on the photograph thumbnail, it was useful to be able to go to other parts of the website from the categories displayed at the top of the site.  Since the subject of the archive is as broad as the history of Florida and students may be looking for specific information, the navigation bar at the top was helpful.

The sheer amount of information was slightly overwhelming – even within the photograph collections, everything from pets to NASA was covered.  Somebody hoping to explore different aspects of Florida would benefit from the various ways in which the information can be found: through the search bar, the photographic collections, entire exhibits, and a catalog of terms.  This allows the viewer to search for something specific or browse if they do not have an exact subject in mind.  There is even a tab to help identify photographs which helps the viewers feel engaged as they can contribute to the site.  Similarly, there is hundreds of videos about “The Sunshine State” divided up ranging from tourism videos to civil rights videos. These can also be browsed or searched using the search bar.

Screenshot of Alligators in Florida Section, Photograph by Astha Berry
Screenshot of “Alligators in Florida” Section, Florida Memory. Photograph by Astha Berry, 2015

This interactive online experience allows the reader to immerse themselves further into Florida’s history than simply viewing images as through possibly a wikipedia site or an in-person exhibition.  The amount of information available in such an online format is great, and a multi-media approach can be used to look into certain topics more in depth.  Overall, this was a very comprehensive online exhibition by Omeka.

Screenshot of the Navigation of Photographs, Florida Memory. Photograph by Astha Berry, 2015.
Screenshot of the Navigation of Photographs, Florida Memory. Photograph by Astha Berry, 2015.

Florida Memory Exhibition:

Review of Nabokov Under Glass

In 1999, the New York Public Library celebrated the centenary of Vladimir Nabokov’s birth with an exhibition of materials from the prolific author’s archive. Sixteen years later, much of the information and many images of the materials featured in the physical exhibit can still be accessed through the library’s digital exhibition, Nabokov Under Glass. This fascinating exhibition chronicles Nabokov’s writing, correspondence, and Lepidoptera to provide his curious readers with a deeper look into his incredible life, impressive career, and ingenious mind.

The convenient layout of the homepage makes the exhibit easily navigable. A list of links on the left hand side of the page offers an introduction as well as general information about the collection and the library itself. However, the main focus of the homepage is the “Exhibition Timeline” which allows visitors to enter four different sections of the collection. In an unusual but particularly helpful feature, the timeline is divided geographically, so the first impression each visitor receives is of Nabokov’s international associations.  By designating the four temporal segments of his life in accordance to his geographical location, the exhibit emphasizes the major impact of his national ties and émigré status on his artistic works.

Nabokov 1
Vladimir Nabokov, List of clothing for trip to Cape Cod (Summer 1944). Holograph manuscript on the verso of a letter from Katharine White, dated July 3, 1944. Berg Collection

Upon clicking on any of the four timeline segments, visitors are taken to a new page featuring a number of subsections arranged in chronological order. The first title in “Russia 1899-1919” is “Early Life and Poems,” while the last title, found in Switzerland 1966-1977” is “Look at the Harlequins! New York, 1974.” Most of the sections feature one picture underneath the grouping title showing a related item featured in the archive collection. All photographs are accompanied by explanatory descriptions and citations, such as this packing list for a summer trip, which provides a fun look into Nabokov’s daily life. Clicking on any picture allows visitors to take a closer look at the interesting materials from Nabokov’s archives.

Visitors are also able to read more information about each section of the exhibition by clicking on the grouping titles featured in each timeline segment. For example, the ninth section, listed in “Europe 1919-1939” is called “Otchaianie. Berlin, 1936 (Despair, 1966).” By selecting this title, visitors are taken to a subpage with a few paragraphs describing the writing and publishing process behind Nabokov’s third novel, Despair. Below this follows a list of physical materials related to the book which could be found in the 1999 exhibition, and underneath visitors can immediately access any of the other timeline segments through convenient links. The detailed discussions in each section of the exhibition provide visitors with a wealth of information to contextualize and enlighten understandings of Nabokov’s written works.

Nabokov 2
W. J. Holland, The Butterfly Book (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Doran, 1933). Nabokov’s copy, with his extensive holograph annotations throughout, signed on the title page, Dmitri Nabokov, etc. Berg Collection

Especially interesting is the section entitled “Lepidopterological Papers, 1941-53,” which gives readers an impression of Nabokov’s lesser known career as a lepidopterist. The fascinating discussion of his impressive discoveries grants his readers a deeper look into his intelligent and creative mind, beyond his artistic production. Sections such as these highlight the biographical nature of the exhibition – it is not simply a catalog of works by a particular writer but an investigation of the man behind the books. Overall, this digital exhibition provides visitors with a thorough and extensive overview of Vladimir Nabokov’s life and works that can add significantly to any reader’s appreciation of his writing.

Scales of evaluation

The exhibition that I decided to review is Rainbows and Plunge Pools-An Angler’s Alphabet from Cornell University’s Albert R. Mann Library. The exhibition’s focus is the art of fishing through an exploration of different texts, topics, and people who are instrumental figures in fishing history. Installed in April of 2011, this online exhibition is very pleasing to the eye.

The reader is first led to a main page, which features a beautiful title in black bold letters, as well as a picture of a fish. Navigating through the exhibition is very systematic because clicking anywhere on this main page will lead the reader to the introduction page. The introduction page gives a short synopsis of what the exhibition features. The synopsis is not only sweet and short, but also filled with puns to make the reader laugh. For example, the synopsis ends with “So join us as we meander up the alphabet – it’s as promising a stream as any, and you never know what we might catch.”

The exhibit features a different object for each letter of the alphabet, and clicking on one of the letters on the bottom leads to a page about that object along with an image. For example, clicking on P will lead to a small subpage with a description and image of a plunge pool. Similarly, clicking on W will lead to a page about Woolly Bugger, a widely used wet fly to attract fish.

Main Page. Rainbows & Plunge Pools. An Angler’s Alphabet. Accessed 9 April 2015.


Home Page. Rainbows & Plunge Pools. An Angler’s Alphabet. Accessed 9 April 2015.

The exhibit’s set-up leads to a very interesting experience for the reader. The introduction page does a good job of capturing the reader’s attention. The first thing it says is “Come get hooked!”.

This is a humorous introduction and does a good job drawing in an audience who may not necessarily be interested in or invested in the art of fishing. These readers may simply be browsing in order to learn about a new topic.

Also, there are beautiful letters of the alphabet that run across the bottom of each page. At first, I was confused by the letters and thought they were simply a design. Later, while clicking around, I discovered that each letter leads to a page corresponding with it. This was quite unintuitive because the appearance of the letters doesn’t give any indication that they are links.

A great characteristic of this exhibit is that the reader can access any page, regardless of which page they are currently viewing. However, a downside is that the reader can’t sort through what types of objects that want to see. For example, if I wanted to only look at archival texts about fishing, there is no way for me to select to see all the options. Regardless, the exhibition is unique and has a lot to offer. Three scales up for this job!

The World Behind the Postcard

Figure 1. The Zwerdling Postcard Collection: Pictures of Nursing home page, Accessed 9 April 2015.
Figure 1. The Zwerdling Postcard Collection: Pictures of Nursing home page, Accessed 9 April 2015.

The Zwerdling Postcard Collection: Pictures of Nursing, housed on the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s website, is an exhibition that uses the ephemeral postcard as a path into understanding the culture of nursing (Fig. 1). Each visual aid works to clarify the societal attitudes surrounding the profession. The introduction to the exhibition details this focus, saying: “By documenting the relationship of nursing to significant forces in 20th-century life, such as war and disease, these postcards reveal how nursing was seen during those times.” It is exactly this theme of revelation that reimagines the subject of nursing through an unconventional medium. As one opens and clicks through the images of postcards topics of gender, service, art, and more are elucidated.

Hygea “The First Nurse,” 1933. Via Ring Sanatorium and Hospital Inc., Arlington Heights, MA.
Figure 2. Hygea “The First Nurse,” 1933. Via Ring Sanatorium and Hospital Inc., Arlington Heights, MA.

The first subsection of the exhibition entitled, “Picturing a Woman’s Mission: Service to Humanity” pictorially details the ancient roots of nursing. European postcards of the 19th and 20th century recreate archetypes of maidens, angels, and goddesses—women pouring Grecian urns and red cross workers adorned with wings (Fig. 2). Moving down on the navigation bar the user next explores the dawn of nursing as a career in “Picturing Nursing as a Career”. Postcards show women working behind school desks, standing in front of cars, and hovering over sick soldiers. Here the nurse breaks from her mythological world and enters the modern era as a woman with agency and power. She is no longer stiffly posed in mythological recreation, but very concretely in the real world.

Figure 3. Nurses from the George A. Brewster Nurse Training School pose for a group portrait, Jacksonville, FL, 1908. Via U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Figure 3. Nurses from the George A. Brewster Nurse Training School pose for a group portrait, Jacksonville, FL, 1908. Via U.S. National Library of Medicine.

In an attempt at comprehension the next section of the exhibition, “Picturing the Gender of Nursing” addresses the misconception that only women were and are nurses. Several postcards work to expose the masculine presence in the profession. Flowing with the idea of inequality the next group titled “Nursing and Respectability” discusses the racial hierarchies entrenched in 19th century nursing. Postcards aim to expose a rich history of African American nurses who were often discounted as not being the “ideal” nurse despite their exceptional capabilities (Fig. 3). Once again the postcards act as devices for confronting and understanding the societal conception of who a nurse is thought to be. These small pieces of paper illuminate both cultural injustice as well as cultural appreciation.

Figure 4. "Oh, something about a pretty girl and a wounded soldier with a happy ending", ca. 1918 Created by Rez Maurice. Via The Regent Publishing Co. Ltd., London.
Figure 4. “Oh, something about a pretty girl and a wounded soldier with a happy ending”, ca. 1918
Created by Rez Maurice. Via The Regent Publishing Co. Ltd., London.

Finally, the exhibition ends with a look at 19th and 20th century artistic renderings of nursing culture in “The Art of Nursing”. Vividly colored postcards show calm women tending to children and helping doctors. These postcards harken back to the ancient archetypes established in the exhibition’s first section. However, these idealistic representations begin to delve into an undercurrent of sexuality resulting in nods to the familiar pinup genre of postcards (Fig. 4). The exhibition viewer does not have to end his or her experience at the bottom of the navigation menu, however. With a quick flick of the eyes back to the top of the page one may open the “Education” section for lesson plans pertaining to nursing or surf the “Digital Gallery” for more sumptuous images. These options tantalize the viewer, softly asking them to engage further and go deeper into the world behind the postcard.

Stein’s People

The perspective of time in Stein’s, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is an unreliable mode of understanding for the reader. The style takes on a narrative form of constant digression, as it never conforms to a consistent linear progression. A reader focused on time will undoubtedly feel lost as they constantly try to orient themselves in the timeline of Stein. However, there are other means to situate oneself in the disorderly account of Stein’s life. The people in Stein’s life can be used as anchors, because each important moment is inevitably linked specifically to a person or people. Stein’s life is a shared venture that can be grasped by examining the connections of people through time and space.

Alice B. Toklas. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Public Domain.

Before Alice B. Toklas came to Paris, she was raised in San Francisco where she met Gertrude’s sister-in-law during the San Francisco fires, after which she decided to move to Paris (1907).

Fernande. Photograph by Jean Agelou. Courtesy of, Public Domain. 

Alice arrives in Paris, meets Picasso and Fernande, attends an art exhibition, and visits Fernande in Montparnasse with Gertrude.

Gertrude Stein. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Public Domain.

Gertrude Stein is in Paris buying famous artists, becomes close friends with Alice, and they spend the summer in Fiesole (1903-1907).

William James. Photograph by Notman Studios. MS Am 1092 (1185), Houghton Library, Harvard University.
William James. Photograph by Notman Studios. MS Am 1092 (1185), Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Alice describes Gertrude Stein before Paris, as she was born in Alleghany, PA, and moved many times before settling in Paris. She went to Radcliffe and was taught by William James. She studied for her masters at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, but dropped out due to boredom.

Henri Matisse in Paris. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, Public Domain.

Alice shares social stories about Matisse and other cubist artists, she spends the holidays in Italy with Stein, then they move to London on the eve of World War I, while Mildred Aldrich is left alone in Paris (1907-1914).

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Courtesy of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Stein and Alice spent the beginning of World War One in London, then left to rescue Gertrude’s writings from Paris. After the war, Paris was different.

Ernest Hemingway’s 1923 Passport Photo. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Electronic Records Archives Program.

After the war, Gertrude argues with T.S. Eliot, befriends Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson. Gertrude lectures at Oxford University, parties with other artists, and devises the idea of writing an autobiography.

Gertrude Stein: Time and Place in “The Autobiography”

As I wait for the bus on the sidewalk outside the Queen Anne-style building of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, I picture Gertrude Stein walking by that very spot to her research laboratory more than a century ago. Maybe a speck of dust that grazed her shoes in 1901 is now stuck to mine. I am fascinated by how time and place intersect. A building may be in ruins and a name may change with the passage of time, but the physical sites remain. Reading about a particular place in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (the non-sequential autobiography of Gertrude Stein disguised as that of her lifetime companion), I imagine what the characters might have experienced and seen at a specific moment in history. How are the places similar or different today? Here, I have selected archival photographs of places in which significant events of the autobiography occurred:

The confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, where the Ohio River forms in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 1890. From Getty Images. Photograph by Fotosearch.

1874, West Allegheny (Pittsburgh), PA – Stein was born.


San Francisco
Part of an eleven-frame panorama of San Francisco, California, 1877. From Getty Images. Photograph by Eadweard Muybridge.

1877, San Francisco, CA – Toklas was born.


Radcliffe College
View of Radcliffe Yard, 1900-1908. From the Radcliffe Archives.

1893, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, MA – Stein met William James and wrote her first published work, which appeared in the Harvard Psychological Review and featured “experiments in automatic writing” later developed in Three Lives and Making of Americans.


Johns Hopkins
Postcard of Johns Hopkins Hospital, c. 1900. From the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives. Public Domain.

1900-1902, Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, MD – Stein enrolled at the Medical School, but left after two years without a degree.


Eiffel Tower as viewed from a balloon, c. 1900. From Getty Images. Photograph by Buyenlarge.

1903, Paris, France – Stein and her brother moved into the apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus. Between 1905 and 1906, Picasso painted Stein’s portrait in ninety sittings. Toklas arrived in Paris in 1907.


Petite Palais
Le Petit Palais in Paris, c. 1898. From Getty Images. Photograph by Roger Viollet.

1905, Le Petit Palais, Paris, France – Matisse’s La Femme au Chapeau was exhibited at the inaugural autumn salon. Stein purchased the painting and soon became an important collector of Matisse’s works.


London WW1
London crowds in the street on the day WWI was declared, August 4, 1914. From the Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

1914, London, England – Hoping to persuade an English publisher to publish Stein’s work, Stein and Toklas travelled to London in July. They ended up staying in the English countryside with Dr. Alfred Whitehead and his family for six weeks due to the outbreak of World War I.


Perpignan WW1
View of the Castillet in Perpignan, c. 1900. From Getty Images.

1916, Perpignan, France – Stein and Toklas, volunteering for the American Fund for French Wounded, drove supplies to French hospitals near the Spanish frontier.