Sign exhibit takes you back in time

“Sign of the Times” shows the evolution of presidential campaign posters from 1844-2012.


The central library in Downtown Kansas City showcased a political poster exhibit. photo by Kate Jones

by Margaux Renee, Staff Writer

story by Margaux Renee

With Abraham Lincoln to the left and Barack Obama to the right, “Sign of the Times-The Great American Political Poster” exhibit guides its visitors through 170 years of American History through graphic art.

Located in the Genieve Guidner Gallery of the Central Library, the exhibit explores the art of political campaign posters and how it has evolved over time.

Because it’s arranged in chronological order, the structure is similar to a timeline.  Each poster’s history and origins are listed on the plaque next to it, the entire exhibit spanning from 1844 to 2012.

The huge block of time covered by the exhibit is divided into smaller periods of time.       Graphic design teacher Kelly Scott explains how the graphic style of one period, “The Poster Explosion (1968-1972)” differed from that of earlier periods. “Because it was done by hand, the design lends itself to [that letter press style],” Scott said.

According one of the gallery’s informative plaques, this period stands out because artists used “eye-popping images in vibrant color and new printing techniques in a wide range of styles.”

Although the exhibit focused mostly on presidential posters, it also acknowledged that this time period played a vital role in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements.

The last period “After McGovern and Obama 2008: A political poster renaissance,” shows what caused the decline of posters in the 70’s and how they were re-popularized when President Obama ran in 2008. Senator Obama’s unexpected popularity in the 2008 presidential campaign triggered a “grass-roots poster explosion,” the likes of which had not been seen in over 30 years.

Scott agrees that Shepard Fairey’s iconic red and blue portrait of Obama for his “Hope” poster, re-popularized some of the earlier design trends.

“That kind of brought back that style,” Scott said.

According to sophomore Jasia Tolbert, social media and the internet have really changed the way presidents campaign.

“You can see [political campaigning] all over social media,” Tolbert said. “You don’t even have to get out there and make a statement anymore.”

Scott shares a similar opinion, saying she does her own research in order to avoid the bias that’s present on social media and in news sources.

The exhibit explores a time when political campaigns were advertised strictly on paper providing stark contrast to today’s methods.

Tolbert continues on about how the chronological layout of the exhibit makes it interesting for visitors.

“I like stuff like that because you can see how much improvement there’s been,” Tolbert said.

Tolbert however, explains that she doesn’t think the exhibit will affect the community.

“I don’t even think [the community] really knows about it,” Tolbert said. “I guess it wasn’t well advertised.”

She goes on to say that even if it had been well advertised, she doesn’t think anyone would have much interest in it.

“Sign of the Times” was adapted by a local company called ExhibitsUSA and will be on tour around the country until 2021, stopping twice in Kansas City.

“I think people are going to see [the exhibit] because of nostalgia, remembering the times and appreciating the art of the posters,” Scott said.


gallery by Kate Jones