Political cartoon exhibit reveals Ohio link to art form’s golden age in America

Posted Aug 29th, 2007 by Nancy Kleinhenz  Category: General Interests


FREMONT – Some historians believe the art of political cartooning had its start in the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt. In the 17th and 18th centuries, British and French caricature artists set the art form on course toward its modern-day concept and inspired what would become a uniquely American version. The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential explores The Golden Age of American Political Cartooning in its newest exhibit opening today (August 28) in the Hayes Museum.

The Golden Age of American Political Cartooning focuses on the latter half of the 19th century. It was during the post-Civil War years that illustrator Thomas Nast pioneered a distinctive American style of political cartooning. Nast broke with the tradition of wordy cartoons, opting to use symbols and imagery to convey his messages. Many of the symbols he created – the Republican elephant, Uncle Sam, Miss Columbia, and Santa Claus – continue to be used today.

Nast’s success fueled a surge in American political cartooning. To challenge his popularity, other cartoonists introduced color lithography and irreverent humor in their creations. The public’s appetite for the new visual information source led to creation of illustrated publications like Puck. As America’s first successful political satire magazine, Puck also legitimized the profession of political cartoonist. The magazine’s stable of talented artists included most of the top names in the industry: Joseph Keppler, Frederick Opper, Bernhard Gillam, and James A. Wales.

Wales is considered the first U.S.-born American political cartoonist. A native of Clyde, Ohio, he learned aspects of his profession in Toledo and Cincinnati before heading for New York City – the 19th-century mecca for political cartoonists. Wales was a top cartoonist at Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Puck before establishing his own political-satire publication, Judge. Sadly, his career was cut short at age 34 by an accidental overdose of a prescribed sedative.

In addition to dozens of cartoons published in the 19th century, The Golden Age of American Political Cartooning showcases original cartoons and sketches by James A. Wales. On loan from the Wales family, these rare treasures have been exhibited only once before. The Golden Age of American Political Cartooning is on display through May 2008. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday and federal holidays. Admission is $6/adults, $5/senior citizens, $2/children 6-12.

The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center is located at the corner of Hayes and Buckland avenues. The facility is affiliated with the Ohio Historical Society. For more information call 419-332-2081 (in Fremont) or 800-998-PRES (out of town). The Hayes Presidential Center website also has updates concerning events.

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Nancy Kleinhenz - Hayes Presidential Center, OH 800-998-PRES | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Political cartoon exhibit reveals Ohio link to art form’s golden age in America”

  1. K Dwyer Says:

    I would like to know if a catalogue of this exhibition is being published and, if so, how I might buy a copy.
    Thank you.

  2. Samuel J. Thomas Says:

    I too am interested in purchasing a copy of any catalogue connected to this exhibit.

    On another note, I am staging an exhibit titled “No Holds Barred: Political Cartoons of the Gilded Age,” at the MSU Museum of Natural History and Culture, East Lansing, MI 48823. The exhibit, which runs from August 24 to December 31, 2008, will feature some 40 original Puck cartoons and accompanying explanatory texts.

    Samuel J. Thomas, PhD
    Professor, Dept. of History
    Michigan State University
    E.L. MI 48824

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