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War-Era Food Posters Exhibit Opens October 6 in Washington, D.C.

September 22, 2010

A top hat decorated with stars and stripes filled with potatoesWhen Beans Were Bullets, an exhibit of over 80 poster reproductions from World Wars I and II, will bring its messages of careful consumption and victory gardens to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's South Building in Washington, D.C. beginning Wednesday, October 6. The exhibit examines the evolution of poster styles, propaganda messages and advertising history during the two time periods.

The exhibit sounds themes familiar to wartime, emphasizing contributions everyone can make through conserving food, rationing and canning fruits and vegetables. But today's audience might be surprised by government messaging during World War I encouraging home front populations to eat locally, healthfully and conscientiously in order to put the nation's interest first and contribute to distant war efforts.

Curator Cory Bernat highlights the dramatic differences in style and content that emerged between the two wars, as emotional appeal displaced a fact-based one. This shift reflects the influence of both the Advertising Council of World War II and the dawn of the advertising industry in the 1920s and '30s.

To highlight their mass-produced quality, Bernat displays copies of the posters on fence panels instead of in frames. This approach also puts the today's viewer among the large-scale audience for whom the posters were intended.

Bernat researched and created When Beans Were Bullets in collaboration with the National Agricultural Library (NAL), where the original posters, many unique, are held. Reprints of many of the posters on display can be purchased online or by contacting the Library's Special Collections at (301) 504-6503.

Summary of Exhibit InfoThe exhibit will be located in the cafeteria at USDA's South Building, 1400 Independence Avenue, Southwest, Washington, D.C. It is free and will be open to the public Monday through Friday (except Federal holidays), 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., October 6 through November 10. Members of the public must enter the South Building by 2:00 p.m. through the entrance at C and 12th Streets, Southwest, but may stay until the 3:30 p.m. closing. Directions to the South Building by Metrorail and car are available on USDA's Web site. On-street parking is limited.

Bernat, a designer, curator and public historian living in Washington, D.C., has also developed an online version of the exhibit.

Prior to coming to the South Building, When Beans Were Bullets was on display at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Md.

For more information about the exhibit, contact Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, (301) 504-6503.


Last Modified: Oct 31, 2012
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