The prolific illustrator James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) is responsible for some of our most iconic patriotic images, crafted to bolster support for World Wars I and II on both the home and battle fronts. These images are only a small part of his vast body of work–and a career that was well on its way by age 15 when he was appointed staff artist at Life and Judge magazines–but are nonetheless illustrative of his creativity and his tendency to focus the visual message on people rather than objects or events: he personified patriotism. Even though it is clearly based on the equally-iconic Lord Kitchener poster by Alfred Leete, his Uncle Sam (literally–he served as his own model) will forever be our Uncle Sam and though Miss Columbia looks a bit more ephemeral she certainly served her time in the first decades of the twentieth century. My favorites are the more whimsical, pre-war “Flagg girls” dressed up in red, white and blue, but all make for a patriotic display as we head into this July 4th weekend.
Flagg’s cover for the July 3, 1915 edition of Judge magazine; original Uncle Sam “I Want You” poster from 1917 and its reissue in 1941 (see a short article here); a collage of Columbias, 1917-1918; “Tell that to the Marines!”, 1917-1918; and Flagg (left) & FDR with his anti-Forest Fire poster, 1937, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Library of Congress. Just a few years ago, the owner of Flagg’s 1910 summer house in Biddeford Pool, Maine, received permission to demolish it, but somehow save the land- and seascape murals he had painted on its interior walls. I think it’s gone now.
July 2nd, 2015 at 10:00 am
Flagg’s Uncle Sam is seared more deeply in this Canadian’s brain than even Lord Kitchener. I imagine I’d seen other examples of his work over the years but only became aware of his name through his work as a book illustrator. Basil King’s The Contract of the Letter (New York, Harper & Bros, 1914) is a favourite. Early this year I made an exciting discovery – to me anyway – coming across 23 Flagg illustrations done for Arthur Stringer’s The Wine of Life (New York: Knopf, 1921). They don’t appear in the book itself, but were used in its newspaper syndication… and then, it would seem, never again.
I’m taking the liberty of sending on these links – both visual feasts:
July 2nd, 2015 at 10:49 am
Thanks, Brian–I’m just beginning to explore his work so this is very welcome. Some of it is very racy! I do remember seeing his summer house as a child, but the memory didn’t come back until I saw notice of its impending demolition.
June 25th, 2016 at 7:35 pm
If only to correct the misconception that my grandfather posed as the original Uncle Sam, you can see a brief recap of the historic event at my blog (which I unfortunately have not been able to keep up), uslibertyjournal.blogspot.com. My Mother, his daughter, tried her adult life to correct this, and with the advent of the internet, it’s a daunting task.
June 26th, 2016 at 7:27 am
Thanks so much for your comment and link, Cathy!