BBLA Acquires Vojtech Preissig Poster
BBLA has acquired an historic poster in marking the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry into World War I and Czechoslovak support of the allied effort. This poster is the most famous in a series of 16 color linoleum cuts produced by Vojtěch Preissig for the Wentworth Institute during World War I, calling on Czechoslovaks living in the United States to join the Czech legion fighting in Europe. The Bohemian National Hall in New York City was an active recruitment center for Czechs and Slovaks in this period. The posters exist in different languages (Czech, Slovak and English) and formats (the images also appear on postcards). A Czech artist of great “artistic inventiveness, superb technical knowledge and masterful craftsmanship,” Preissig studied at the School of Applied Arts in Prague and worked with Alphonse Mucha in Paris between 1898 and 1903. In 1910, he came to America, where he taught at Columbia University and was the director of the School of Printing and Graphic Arts at the Wentworth Institute in Boston (whose initials are printed on the poster).
The flags depicted in this poster represent the four regions which would, in 1918, comprise Czechoslovakia: Bohemia (the red lion); Moravia (the red and white checked eagle); Silesia (the black eagle); and Slovakia (with the Slovak double cross, similar to the French cross of Loraine). The red, white and blue flag, with the stars in the middle, was the Resistance flag of the Czechoslovak Independence movement which Preissig had designed for the Czech Government while in Exile. It was intended to have become the Czech national flag, but was somehow overlooked in 1918 when Czechoslovakia was officially formed. Czechoslovak support of the allied effort led to the establishment of the First Republic of Czechoslovakia in October 1918, when independence was declared from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and shortly thereafter, the election of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk as First President of the Republic in November 1918.
Image: Vojtech Preissig (1873-1944), Czechoslovaks! Join Our Free Colors!, 1918, linocut on paper, published by Wentworth Institute, Boston. Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries, New York.
Vojtěch Preissig was commemorated in the Bohemian National Hall exhibition “Acts of Courage” in Spring 2015, for his role in fighting for Czechoslovak independence through his inspiring wartime poster designs and for his bravery in resisting fascism in occupied Czechoslovakia in World War II; he died at the Dachau concentration camp on June 11, 1944. His poster will be on view beginning in April 2017, back in the Bohemian National Hall one hundred years after U.S. entry in World War I. (Based in part on information from Swann Auction Galleries, New York and Lucie Vičková, Vojtěch Preissig, Museum of Decorative Arts Prague, 2012.)
For further background, visit the exhibition Posters and Patriotism: Selling World War I in New York, opening April 5th and on view through August, 2017 at the Museum of the City of New York. Showcasing over 60 examples from the Museum's renowned World War I poster collection donated to the Museum by railroad executive and financier John W. Campbell in 1943, many of which are on view for the first time, the exhibit will include additional works from the Preissig series.
Image: Bohemians at Wake Up America/Lexington Day/Patriot's Day Celebration in New York City, April 19, 1917, part of the war recruitment effort following U.S. entry into World War I. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Reproduction Number LC-DIG-ggbain-24216.
Majda Kallab Whitaker is an independent scholar and curatorial consultant, and as a Board Member of the Dvorak American Heritage Association (DAHA), acts as project advisor of the Dvorak Room in the Bohemian National Hall. A graduate of Bard Graduate Center and Vassar College, she curates exhibitions and lectures on subjects related to late nineteenth and early twentieth century cultural and design history. She was born in Prague, and is a Member of the Board of BBLA.