Arts and Music
Cartoon exhibit reflects politics of their time
The Tampa Tribune
Published: August 1, 2012
Called "Art of the Poison Pens: A Century of Political Cartoons," it contains more than 50 satirical images that reflect the political sensibilities of the nation from 1891 through the present.
Considered provoking or pleasing depending on your political views, the exhibit images have been culled from about 1,000 cartoons of all sorts in The Mahan Collection of American Humor and Cartoon Art, now held by the University of South Florida Library.
The collection was compiled over a lifetime of serious and purposeful gathering by Dr. Charlie Mahan, retired Dean and Professor Emeritus of the University Of South Florida School Of Public Health.
This will be the first time any part of the collection has been exhibited to the public.
Dr. Mahan spoke about the exhibit and the collection recently by telephone:
Q: The news release says the cartoons make fun of both sides of the aisle. Do they?
A: Yes. The museum wanted this to overlap the Republican National Convention, so we were careful to get stingers in there for both the Republicans and the Democrats.
Q: Were you motivated by your own political views when you were in collecting?
A: No, not really. I really enjoyed how the cartoonist would take on both political parties. I never had a trend one way or the other. And it's really interesting how different presidents reacted to the cartoons. Especially the ones that were harsh against him.
Q: How did you decide on one to collect?
A: I think I was looking at the quality of the art work, the caricature quality and of course the historical context of it, so it made some sense.
Q: One of the cartoons in the exhibit is by former Tampa Tribune cartoonist Wayne Stayskal. What attracted you about that cartoon?
A: Number 1, it's a tremendous caricature of LBJ (President Johnson), and number 2 it was historically important because even though LBJ was full of bluster, he was very concerned with what people thought of him. And I think that cartoon reflects that very well.
Q: Are there other Florida artists represented?
A: Oh, yes. Gene Packwood from Leesburg; Marty Stein from the Orlando area. He draws for a Spanish language paper so his cartoons are in Spanish; Doug McGregor of Fort Myers News-Press.
Q: Are you still collecting?
A: Actually, I had to quit about the time of Jimmy Carter. I just got too busy. So for this exhibit, we wrote to a number of contemporary cartoonists who responded with art. As a result, about 15 percent of the exhibit will be by contemporary cartoonists, many from Florida.
Q: When did you start collecting?
A: When I was a teenager. I was cartooning myself and I used to enter contests. When I was about 12, my mother took me to an auction in our town (Morgantown, W.Va.) and there was an animation still of Alice in Wonderland signed by Walt Disney. I used my lawnmower money and paid $50 for it.
Q: What kept you going?
A: I think acquiring the first one was exciting, and then when I wrote to someone, and they actually sent me something. That sort of got me energized. In college, I was interested in history and cartooning, and I put the two of them together and wrote a thesis on the influence political cartoons have on history.
Q: What do you mean when you say you "wrote to someone?"
A: If I liked a cartoon, I'd write a letter to the artist and tell him how much I liked it. Back in the '50s and '60s, when I was most active, people would generally send it to you if you wrote a complimentary letter. They don't do that anymore. Nowadays, most cartoonists will be archived with a university, at least the big names will. Another way I got editorial ones was I'd go into the offices and meet the cartoonist. Then I'd ask if I could use their name to meet other cartoonists.
Q: What exactly was it that the artist sent you?
A: The original drawing. There are a couple of prints there [in the exhibit] but most of them are originals. You can see the markings and changes they made when they did the drawings. The size is really [varied]. They're all bigger than the size they appeared in the paper. The only one that's the same size as the paper is the really iconic cartoon of Lincoln Memorial crying that Bill Mauldin did the day after President Kennedy died.
Q: There are 1,000 in the collection. How were the 59 for the exhibit selected?
A: Four of us got together and chose them: Mark Greenberg, director of special collections at the library, Dr. Gerald Paulson, retired professor of political science at the St. Pete campus of USF; and Larry Bush, who just wrote his masters thesis on political cartoons.
Q: What are your plans for the collection?
A: We're in talks with a couple of Florida artists and we're hoping to get some of them to send us some cartoons to round out the collection. I'd like USF to be the repository of the complete works of Florida cartoonists, so that's what we're working toward. It's great to have them for the students.
Q: What are your expectations for the exhibit?
A: I think it's going to be a really interesting exhibit for all ages. But I really hope to get younger people interested in seeing it because young people don't seem to know the first thing about American history.
'Art of the Poison Pens: A Century of Political Cartoons'
What: Exhibit of 59 political cartoons from 1891 to present
When: Saturday through Sept. 16
Where: The Tampa Museum of Art, 120 Gasparilla Place in downtown Tampa
Tickets: $10 adults, $7.50 seniors, free for children age 6 and under and museum members; www.tampamuseum.org