Elizabeth E. Barker, Ph.D., Stanford Calderwood Director of the Boston AthenŠum
, announced today the donation to the AthenŠum of the collection of WWII visual materials of architectural photographer, author, and AthenŠum Proprietor Richard W. Cheek. The Richard W. Cheek World War II Graphic Arts Collection contains over 2,000 posters and war maps, 189 linear feet of books, 4,000 magazines, and approximately 6,500 pieces of WWII ephemera, including patriotic envelopes, board games, playing cards, and pin-ups.
We couldnt feel more gratefulor more honoredto become the repository of such a discerning collectors lifelong passion, stated Barker. Richard Cheeks gift provides fresh insight into a critical moment in world history. The value of this archive for scholarsand, indeed, for any curious personis incalculable. The collection elevates the Athenaeums ability to serve as an essential research center for three of our nations greatest conflicts.
The Cheek collection complements the AthenŠums existing Civil War and WWI-related holdings: together, these visual records provide a valuable resource for the study of 19th- and 20th-century American society and culture. The acquisition reflects the institutions mission to serve its members, the broader community, and scholars throughout the world by preserving and augmenting its collections, providing library services and cultural programming, and preserving and enhancing the unique atmosphere of its landmark building.
Of the collections remarkable breadth, Catharina Slautterback, the AthenŠums Curator of Prints and Photographs, explains that part of its value lies in its sheer numbers, adding that the collection conveys, in a way that a smaller collection could not, the pervasiveness of propaganda in American society during the war. Both Slautterback and collector Richard Cheek emphasize the role of the collections graphic and visual elements in communicating persuasive wartime narratives. To understand why Americans were willing to engage in another global conflict while still suffering from the consequences of the Great War, Cheek says, we need to know the pictures and symbols that motivated them. He adds, In a society that was becoming increasingly visual in its orientation, images were more important than words in persuading people to fight again.
The son of a WWII veteran and the grandson of a renowned Civil War historian, Richard Cheek began collecting WWII ephemera as a young boy. Fascinated by the panoply of war, he received an early gift of several signal flags, rescued from a U.S. destroyer that sunk off the coast of Okinawa. Torn, dirty, and redolent of desperate action, as he describes them, these symbolic objects were the first of what was to become a vast collection.
Cheek, a longtime member and Proprietor of the Boston AthenŠum, was inspired to donate his graphic arts collection to the AthenŠum after viewing its 2014-2015 exhibition, Over Here: World War I Posters from Around the World and attending a gallery talk led by Slautterback, the exhibitions curator. An exhibition featuring selections from the Cheek collection is planned for 2020, the 75th anniversary of the wars conclusion, to be curated jointly by Cheek and Slautterback. A fully illustrated catalog will accompany the exhibition.