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.