Restoring history, one fragment at a time

6/1/2021 nlc

By Ginny Lee

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, formerly the Illinois State Historical Library, has a large and beautiful collection of posters, or broadsides, from World War I. In the Conservation Lab I have worked on dozens of them and always admire the artwork and the brilliance of the colors some 100 years later. Recently I organized a collection of missing fragments from our collection of these broadsides, thinking I might someday reunite a piece with its original artwork.


The following day I began conservation work on a 1917 broadside titled “The Ships Are Coming,” one of the more colorful ones in our collection. Such conservation work involves cleaning, humidifying creases, mending tears and losses with Japanese tissue and wheat paste, then deacidifying and encapsulating the item in clear polyester sheets for protection.

While I was cleaning “The Ships Are Coming,” I noticed the lower left-hand corner was missing. Happily, I remembered seeing a tiny fragment with similar typeface and color that I thought might match it. Serendipity! It was the missing corner, and when I mended the broadside, the word read “Forbes,” the name of the printer. It was a gratifying moment. Often when we are mending a paper item, it feels like working a puzzle.



Researching the artist who illustrated a broadside is always interesting. This artist, James H. Daugherty, was born in North Carolina in 1889 and studied at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He was a prominent illustrator of propaganda posters for various government agencies, including the U.S. Shipping Board, during World War I. Daugherty experimented with vibrant color and abstraction, in a manner similar to Thomas Hart Benton. The vivid colors of red, orange, yellow, red, blue and green (and the fierce eagle) in “The Ships Are Coming” arouse a feeling of patriotism – that help is on the way.

Daugherty, who died in 1974, also wrote and illustrated children’s books (including one on Abraham Lincoln), winning both the Caldecott and Newbery Awards. In the 1930s he painted murals through the WPA Federal Arts Project. His 1939 mural “Illinois Pastoral” with an agricultural theme still graces the lobby of the Virden, Ill., post office.

Ginny Lee is an associate in the ALPLM Conservation Laboratory.

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