Voting rights, epidemics explored in cartoon exhibit

Messenger Post Media
Monroe County Post

Political cartoons from Rochester newspapers in the early 20th century are the focus of a virtual exhibit hosted by Rochester Institute of Technology Libraries’ Archives Collections to explore voting rights, epidemics and economic uncertainty.

“Epidemics, Economics and Elections: The Editorial Cartoons of John Scott Clubb and Elmer Messner” features the work of two local artists who produced editorial cartoons about everyday life, many of which are held in the RIT Archives.

Clubb and Messner were a generation apart and worked at different newspapers in Rochester. Clubb spent nearly 34 years at the Rochester Herald and Messner worked at the Times Union. The artists briefly overlapped when Clubb joined the Times Union for a few years before returning to the Herald. Messner also left the Times Union for a stint at the Democrat and Chronicle. 

The Elmer Messner Collection at the RIT Libraries is the largest repository of the artist’s political cartoons and holds more than 1,500 drawings, according to archivist Elizabeth Call. Messner, a Rochester native, graduated from RIT in 1918, then the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, and was on the art school faculty from 1924 to 1945. 

RIT Archives’ repository of Clubb’s and Messner’s work will be available in the spring on RIT Libraries’ Digital Collections.

The nearly 40 election-related cartoons in the exhibit focus on the suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment as it was happening, between 1918 and 1920. Call and her curatorial team picked these examples for an upcoming event that will take a closer look at the drawings.

Hinda Mandell, RIT associate professor in the School of Communication, will lead a textual analysis of editorial cartoons on women voters and the 19th Amendment from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 29 via Zoom. Students taking her special topics course, Media and the 2020 Presidential Election, are analyzing Clubb’s suffrage-related cartoons not included in the exhibit.

Editorial cartoons relating to the 1918 influenza epidemic and economic worries are two themes in the digital exhibit that will be highlighted in separate events during the spring semester. Call is working with RIT adjunct professor Kriota Willberg to incorporate material from the exhibit into her class on graphic medicine. 

“The exhibit is supporting teaching,” Call said. “We currently have two classes that will be using the cartoons as a springboard for an assignment.  We want to create a page on the exhibit that will showcase the student work.”

“Epidemics, Economics and Elections” grew from a collaboration of RIT Libraries staff, faculty and Rochester resident Melissa Corcoran Hopkins. Hopkins donated a selection of Clubb’s editorial cartoons to the RIT Archives and partnered with the curatorial team, contributing contextual essays about historical Rochester.

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