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Liberty - part 4 of 4
The improvements to Bedloes Island and the Statue of Liberty that began in the late 1930’s were halted when all resources had to be reallocated to the war effort. After World War Two the status of the statue had risen so much that the public demanded funds be allocated to match its appearance to the respect it now garnered. This attitude is also represented in the postcards of the time. While she was still treated as a local landmark, as a national symbol she grew to be represented in a more reverent way. On this promotional card from the Schlitz Brewing Co. we find the words “Loved by Millions” printed next to the statue. Is it saying that millions love the Statue of Liberty or the United States? The answer is both. As a national symbol, even a company as this one located in Milwaukee can easily appropriate a statue in New York City for its own purposes because it now belongs to all of us.
Not all postcards picturing the Statue of Liberty published during the Great War related to patriotic or military themes. Besides producing ordinary view-cards, artists who found interest in representing the dynamism of New York were often drawn to Lady Liberty. Despite her classical looks, her construction made her as modern as the new skyscrappers across the harbor, and she was often depicted in one of the modernist styles just recently introduced to the city from Europe. One such artist to draw her this way was Rachael Robinson Elmer already known for her cityscapes published as part of P.F. Volland’s Art Lovers Series. She self published a set of six woodblock reproductions as postcards that included the card pictured above for the Association of Woman Painters, Artists & Sculptures biennial celebration in 1916. While modernist trends continued to grow in the art world and were represented on postcards, most commercial artists had to satisfy popular taste, which perceived modern art as something foreign. This often required patriotic narratives to be attached to the Statue of Liberty during World War Two and in the years that followed. The card below from Vancard of Hollywood presents a colorful but respectful rendition of Lady Liberty by Marcus A. Van Der Hope.
The Statue of liberty in New York was not the only one to continue to receive attention, Its replica on the Seine in Paris had attracted many artists and photographers to it over the years, and many of these representations found their way onto postcards. While these artist cards are usually a cut above the average French view-card, they basically serve as souvenirs with little other meaning stressed. Not all of Bartholdi’s replicas fared this well; the statue in Bordeaux was melted down to supply the German war effort in 1942, and others simply disappeared.
The approach to postcards depicting the Statue of Liberty in post-WWII years was in no way consistent. While overt or subtle patriotic messages were attached to ordinary view-cards, it was most often portrayed a just an ordinary landmark. On the linen card above Liberty is nothing more than a backdrop for a commercial sightseeing advertisement. While cards of this time did not intend to demean the famous statue, there seems to have arisen a different sense of portrayal situated somewhere between reverence and kitsch. While the causes are many, we cannot overlook the greater role being played by the automobile and the growth in tourism and roadside attractions that it fostered. In this new culture Bartholdi’s statue now appears as the “Goddess of Liberty” on the linen card below produced for the Schilling Hobby House & Museum.
With the growth in tourism, numerous models of the Statue of Liberty sprang up around the country in all sorts of settings as the one pictured above on a real photo card from 1960 depicting Peterson’s Rock Garden in Oregon. On the chrome card below we are presented with the Boy Scout Monument at Loveland, Colorado. Both cards function as souvenirs; while there is no attempt to imply any meaning, the statue has already become a loaded image with implied meaning regardless of any publisher’s intent.
What begins to become evident in postwar years is that The Statue of Liberty does not take on new meaning as much as she continues to convey all the same ideas presented over decades past. These are often portrayed in new contemporary settings but the message seems very familiar. In the card above by Ham Fisher his cartoon character, Joe Palooka, harkens back to the turn of the century when the Statue of Liberty was informally associated with immigration. Even as air travel replaced steamships, and the statue became less relevant to incoming immigrants, the last four and a half lines of welcoming words from Emma Lazarus’ sonnet would be placed on the reception hall wall of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The popular mythology surrounding the statue&rsqro;s association with the immigrant experience was just too potent to die.
The linen postcard above was most likely produced as a simple souvenir for visitors to the United Nations, but its follows a familiar presentation dating back to the Great War. While the flags of all member states are shown, it is the Statue of Liberty that represents the ideals of this institution. While this sort of virtuous representation never faded away, and grew stronger after World War One, its use became more problematic after World War Two. The expanding growth of visual media in all our lives encouraged the greater use of cultural icons in presenting all sorts of messages from those selling products to those promoting political agendas. The patriotic shell that once protected Lady Liberty from inappropriate use had been shattered.
The Statue of Liberty had long been used as an instrument of propaganda, but almost exclusively to promote American ideals. With the arrival of the 1960’s, the ideals she embodied remained unchanged but her image now began to be used in ways that often told a much different story. Though long used in satire, the messages became more biting in an age where all familiar cultural institutions were being challenged. Liberty not only found herself embroiled in counterculture protest but as a hostage of the Cold War. Publishers in the Soviet Union sometimes drew upon the Statue of Liberty to express the hypocrisy of the United States by contrasting the virtues of liberty with the results of America’s own imperialist ambitions.
Woman have always seen the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic vehicle they could use in their pursuit of equal rights. Ever since their uninvited appearance at the statue’s unveiling in 1886, suffragists have use her likeness to promote their cause. This symbolism rarely trickled down to postcards where Lady Liberty’s feminine side was more often than not the subject of comic cards or word plays as on the card above from 1907. This began to change in the 1960’s with the rise of the woman’s movement; and associations between liberated women and the statue have only grown stronger since. This can be demonstrated by the array of feminist issues political cartoons to works of art that have found their way onto postcards like the one from John O’Brien pictured below.
While the universal recognition of Liberty’s image made its use ideal for propaganda, it also slowly diluted its power. This was especially true after the introduction of Pop Art, which trivialized the statues celebrity status as it used it. Though Andy Warhol’s rendition of the Statue of Liberty Camouflaged seen on a postcard above can be read as a political statement, its exact meaning is no longer clear. The lack of clarity however is part of its statement as a work of art in which grand patriotic gestures have been subverted. It is noteworthy that Warhol used postcards as the inspiration for the original painting. In the furtherance of art we are presented on the card below with the semblance or what we take to be semblance of Liberty. This card from 1980 reproduces a moment taken from a video by Rynski/ Heynecker in which we are asked to examine our perception of cultural icons rather than contemplate their symbolic content.
The Statue of Liberty was pictured on many postcards during the 1976 tricentennial celebration, but what is notable about the card above is that it was published in the Soviet Union. It is not so strange when viewed as a souvenir of the gathering of Tall Ships in New York Harbor of which they took part, but why this composition? In the midst of the Cold War it is doubtful that the Russians were printing cards espousing American patriotism, so the logical conclusion is that the Statue of Liberty was just being used to set the scene in New York. While true meaning lies with the observer, it seems that Lady Liberty is over emphasized here to perform merely as a geographical marker. The graphics on this card are also typical of the montaged style that became popular in the 1960’s with commercial artists, and became increasingly popular with photographers in the decades that followed.
To some the cultural subversion of Lady Liberty’s image was more sacrilege than an expansion of artistic expression, which paralleled arguments over the proper use of the American flag in art. The statue had far surpassed being a symbol of national identity to one of personal identity as an American. This patriotic fervor rose with the celebration of the Statue of Liberty Centennial on July 4, 1986, and postcard publishers rushed in to accommodate these emotions. Some publishers like Alfred Mainzer harkened back to the turn of the century to produce the modern commemorative hold to light novelty card shown above. Images from the celebration remained so popular that they continued to be published years afterwards as this photograph from the New York Times on an oversized Pomegranate card below.
corporate publishers happily produced scores of new postcards in the hope of making additional sales during Liberty’s centennial, not all postcard production was driven by profit. When they could, individuals took up Liberty’s cause out of heartfelt respect for what she represents. This might only be cliched references to patriotism, but in many cases it demonstrates just how much personal meaning has been added to this familiar presence. The postcard above was privately printed by Annie C. Petitjean to commemorate National Postcard Week in the year of the centennial celebration.
The freeing of Lady Liberty from her reverent aura did not just lead to more powerful satire, it freed many artists to use her image in a number of new and creative ways. Due to the difficulty in escaping from all the statue’s cultural baggage, many artists presented the famous statue in more playful than meaningful ways as in the card above from 1981. Such images depicting the destruction of the statue date back to the 19th century, but they generally evolved from comic fantasies to a tool in social criticism.
While there have been differences of opinion concerning the proper use of Statue of Liberty imagery, no one viewpoint has ever completely crowded out the other. Though Lady Liberty continued to be placed on the most patriotic of cards, this did not exclude her image from being exploited for the most trivial commercial purposes. Performers dressed up as Lady Liberty could be found roaming Times Square and other tourist destinations ready for a photo moment. The one captured on the postcard above poses with a cutout of President Ronald Reagan for added attention. On the 1995 postcard below from the New York New York Casino in Las Vegas, the statue has been reduced to a mere popular icon for the amusement and pleasure of tourists.
Photo montage had been used on postcards since their inception. In the 1908 view-card above from A.C. Bosselman & Co. we are presented with a riverside view of New York with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground. The problem with this image is that the statue is not located in the Hudson River but much further to the south down in the bay; it has been montaged in to increase the salability of an otherwise bland composition. In the montage below from the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Lady Liberty rises up from behind the fair’s symbol, the Unisphere. Unlike the previous card there is no attempt to legitimize the accuracy of the image. Both are presented as tourist attractions of, and are meant to reinforce one another in creating an impression of the Wonder City.
Many New York landmarks have been included in montages over the years, and they have only grown in popularity as digital technology makes these fusions easier to create. While montages on continental sized cards now fill postcard racks on city streets, they also take away much of the symbolism behind Lady Liberty. She retains her celebrity status but without meaning. We needn’t be bothered by the difficult notions of liberty or sacrifice. The Mainzer card below functions much the same way in that the statue seems to be stripped of its symbolism to become just another montaged tourist attraction on a souvenir from New York. After the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, such innocent pairings suddenly took on additional meaning, and these cards became treasured mementos to many.
Eventually montaged cards were published that specifically combined images of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty with added patriotic symbols or written reference to 9/11. In the days following the attack such cards were widely sought after and hawked from many street corners. Soon after there popularity died off as they came to be seen as exploitative and in poor taste. With the passage of time, emotions have cooled and such cards now casually fill the racks on the city’s streets once more. Some however still feel uneasy about them.
The attacks of 9/11 also brought about a resurgence of postcards associating the Statue of Liberty with military might. These cards functioned in many of the same ways as those published during World War Two. They demonstrate that America stands strong while promoting liberty as a weapon against those who attack us. While many images of Lady Liberty were montaged with military scenes from the War in Iraq to create patriotic images, she was also used by those who saw hypocrisy between what she represents and our actions to publicly raise issues as on the card below referencing Guantanamo prison.
As the Statue of Liberty grew to become a popular international symbol, other traditional renditions of liberty grew less common and then faded away completely. Few today know what they are looking at when presented with an image of Columbia or Marianne. While Lady Liberty continues to be used to express messages both serious and trite, the concept of liberty as an important issue has not been completely forgotten on postcards. While such patriotic messages seemed more prevalent after 9/11 they did not dominate the market. New Yorkers like everyone else got swept up in national moments, especially after a great tragedy, but in a dynamic culture, it never takes long for the prevalent spirit to be challenged in ways that range from whimsical to crass. While some look down upon this, others see in it the true spirit of liberty.
While it may seem that we do not always take enough care to protect liberty, the idea remains strong in many of our hearts. On any ferry trip taken across New York Harbor, there will be those who rush to the ship’s railing as the Statue of Liberty comes near. It may still be a tourist attraction, but the enthusiasm expressed in the crowds trying to get a glimpse of her denotes something much deeper. The parks and squares of the city are filled with monuments dedicated to causes and people we barely remember if at all. Setting an idea into a block of carved stone or cast metal is no guarantee of its permanence. The original meaning behind the Statue of Liberty is now largely forgotten and yet she has become one of the world’s most potent symbols. It is precisely because we have continually been able to assign new relevant meaning to her as dated associations are forgotten. Postcards have played a huge role not only in documenting these changes but in promoting them. Lady Liberty now exists more in myth than in substance, and because of this she has become a greater colossus than Bartholdi could have ever imagined.
This article consist of four parts; click on the links below to continue reading.Liberty part 1
Liberty part 2
Liberty part 3