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Exhibition Drawn to Purpose

Themes and Genres

Amid the post-Civil War boom in the publishing industry, illustration and cartoon art flourished and, by the early twentieth century, became defining features in many newspapers, magazines, and books. Selections in the exhibition are grouped by type: Golden Age illustration, early comics, new voices in comics, editorial illustration, magazine covers and cartoons, and political cartoons. This opening cluster contains examples of each, reflecting themes that recur across genres and time periods, while encompassing a dazzling variety of styles and media. Here dramatic shifts in the depictions of women unfold in three drawings that were made decades apart. Alice Barber Stephens shows two women outside the home who are exploring their talents and interests, a social trend that emerges and builds in the late nineteenth century. Decades later, New Yorker cartoonist Roberta MacDonald depicts the role reversal that arises in the 1940s when many women donned overalls and labored to support the war effort. Working outside the home had become the norm by 2001 when Anita Kunz portrayed her multi-tasking woman, zooming in to capture the toll exacted by competing demands—domestic and professional.

In early comics, Marge Henderson Buell's Little Lulu interacts mischievously with her friends who include boys. In the 1990s, Barbara Brandon-Croft brings new voices into frameless strips that relate conversations among African American female friends, covering topics once considered unsuitable for comics. Contemporary political cartoonist Ann Telnaes well-known for her commentary on women's issues, offers critical insight on civil liberties.

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