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Vol. LXII, No. 30
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
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Election Year Exhibit at Firestone Shows Political Issues Stay the Same

Ellen Gilbert

The timing couldn’t be better. The curators of “Sketching Their Characters: 150 Years of Political Cartoons,” a new exhibit in the Leonard L. Milberg Gallery for the Graphic Arts at Princeton’s Firestone Library, surely knew what they were doing when they scheduled this show for a Presidential election year. Little did they know that a controversial New Yorker magazine cover would appear the same week the exhibit opened, making a look at the amusing (or less-than-amusing) ways in which artists have depicted American political figures, “from Andrew Jackson to George H.W. Bush,” more compelling than ever.

“This exhibition will confirm through paper and ink what many voters already suspect,” wrote curators Jennifer M. Cole, Daniel J. Linke, and Daniel Santamaria in describing the show. “Although the candidates may change, many issues remain the same. Questions about qualifications, the service or burden of past actions, the influence of money on the political process, back room deals that subvert the will of the people, and, of course, aspersions on the candidates themselves have tickled and outraged generations of cartoonists.”

The exhibit includes items from collections held by the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library as well as from the holdings of the library’s Graphic Arts Division. Set against red, white, and blue backgrounds scattered with stars, it features primarily original pen and ink editorial cartoons dating from 1828 to 1992, and includes works by Thomas Nast, among other notable political cartoonists.

Nast achieved distinction as “one of the most influential political cartoonists in 19th century American,” according to the curators, through his “emphasis on symbolic figures and images, breaking away from the reliance on dialogue” in previous American political cartoons. Nast is credited with helping to topple the corrupt New York politico, William M. “Boss” Tweed, in the early 1870s.

A related exhibit, “Testing Boundaries: Cartoon Visions of Roosevelt’s Third Term” is running concurrently at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Eleven cartoons from the library’s Political Cartoon Collection examine President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s quest for an unprecedented third term.

Friends of the Library will hear a lecture by Rutgers history and journalism professor David Greenberg, preceding a reception for the exhibition, on October 19. Mr. Greenberg’s first book, Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image, won the Washington Monthly Political Book Award and the American Journalism History Book Award. He is also the recipient of the 2008 Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.

The Milberg Gallery exhibition, which is free and open to the public, runs through the presidential campaign season to January 4, 2009. During the summer, the Milberg Gallery is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Wednesday evenings in July from 4: 30 to 7:30 p.m. The Mudd Library, on 65 Olden Street, is open to the public without restriction during summer weekdays from 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and Wednesday evenings in July until 7:15 p.m.

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