Postcards from the trenches
This spring marked 100 years since the beginning of World War I, a conflict overshadowed by the infamy of World War II. Honors college history professor Irene Guenther hopes to humanize and showcase the conflict with an art installment, “Postcards from the Trenches,” showing real artwork on 4×6 inch postcards from European soldiers at the height of the war.
The exhibit, which will be shown in both Washington D.C. and in Houston this fall, will present paintings created by American and German soldiers, portraying snapshots of their lives on the front lines of World War I.
“Postcards were sort of like (how) we have Twitter or text today, an easy way to communicate,” Guenther said. “These postcards were remarkable; they were all hand-painted with watercolor. There’s very little writing on them, so it’s clear that either the soldier knew that there was censorship, or he simply thought that he could convey more with images than with words.”
Guenther started collecting the postcards six years ago, and her interest quickly grew as she asked for more from descendants of WWI soldiers and collectors.
“We hope to show our museum audiences that WWI is more than just a series of battles and terrible trenches,” exhibit assistant Michiko McMahon said. “We’re trying to make WWI more accessible by highlighting these artists who give an in-depth perspective into what it was like to serve in the war.”
The project requires a budget of roughly $50,000. While most of it is being raised through traditional means – grants, private donations and more – $5,000 is being raised through Kickstarter, a popular crowdfunding website that allows the public to fund a cause, invention or more in a set time period.
As of July 5, “Postcards” has raised a little over $3,500. If this project does not raise the full $5,000 by July 9, as per Kickstarter’s rules, Guenther and her team will receive nothing, and the donators will be refunded. If the amount is not raised, she will return to seeking other donations. But either way, she says, the full amount will be raised, and the exhibit is set to debut in Washington D.C.
According to the Kickstarter’s page, the project will “center on ordinary soldiers, who often conveyed their experiences through ‘field postcards,’ blank postcards distributed to soldiers at the war front on which they corresponded with their loved ones at home. While some soldiers wrote about their ordeal, others painted or drew their experiences. Postcards were ubiquitous, the ‘social currency’ of World War I.”
Guenther’s team believes the exhibit will be an important and unique look into the war, especially because it will be one of the only centennial celebrations planned in Texas.
“Most history classes covering US History typically brush over WWI to get to the Nazis, nuclear bombs, and the Holocaust that occurred in WWII,” McMahon said. “WWII is more iconic in our memories and more fresh in our memories. This exhibit is meant to show that WWI is just as significant and intriguing.”
The exhibit will debut at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery in Washington D.C. in August, and will be displayed at the Printing Museum in Houston on Oct. 23.