National Archives at Kansas City

Exhibits at the National Archives at Kansas City

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“Say It With Snap!”: Motivating Workers by Design, 1923-1929 on exhibit in the Regional Gallery

September 2, 2014 – January 7, 2015

“Say It With Snap!”: Motivating Workers by Design, 1923-1929 on exhibit in the Regional Gallery September 2, 2014 – January 7, 2015

The National Archives at Kansas City will open a new exhibit titled, “Say It With Snap!”: Motivating Workers by Design, 1923-1929, on Tuesday, September 2. Can posters inspire employees to improve their work habits and increase productivity? This exhibit highlights historic work place posters created by the Chicago-based Mather & Company in the 1920s. These posters answered the needs of a rapidly changing American work force through the use of dynamic color and catchy slogans designed to cajole, coax, and even admonish employees to perform at their best. The exhibition will be available for viewing through January 7, 2015.

“Say It With Snap!” surveys the visual strategies and thinking behind Mather & Company posters from 1923 through 1929. The exhibition shows how the direction of the graphic messages changed over time, shifting from incentives targeting white-collar workers and their managers in the early years to a greater focus on factory workers. The exhibition also illustrates the transformation of the Mather posters’ graphic style. While the designs adhered to a standard format of a three-part message and a single image, the palette and use of visual motifs became more colorful and dramatic in the late 1920s, culminating in a set of vivid pink, green, and black creations in 1929 featuring animals such as a tiger, a porcupine, and even a vulture (with the ironic header “HUNGRY!”), an eerie precursor to the stock market crash and Great Depression that would bring Mather’s business to a close.

Mather tapped into veins of popular entertainment such as sports, music, and the circus to craft dramatic posters that both motivated and schooled employees in appropriate workplace behavior. During the company’s most successful years, in the late 1920s, Mather claimed his business supplied more than 40,000 firms nationwide. While the content of some of these posters – such as “Do You Explode?,” or “What Are Loafers Paid?” – may seem naïve today, they captured a moment in time not unlike our own: when changes in society and employment trends upended the relationship between workers and management.

Although the theme of workplace motivation may not seem like an inspirational topic, co-curator Dulce Roman of the University of Florida’s Harn Museum sees Mather’s images as signposts of a unique kind of optimism. Such posters, she observed in a New York Times review of the Harn’s collection in 2010, “reinforce the idea that life goes on in spite of great economic hardship.” She added, “I hope viewers will consider the radically different economic times experienced between the boom … of the 1920s and the hardship of the Depression … and realize that these periods are cyclical.”Such reminders remain relevant today.

Admission, hours, and additional information
“Say It With Snap!”is a free exhibition and will be open through January 7, 2015. The National Archives at Kansas City is open Tuesday-Saturday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. for exhibits viewing and research. To schedule a group tour please call 816-268-8013 or email mickey.ebert@nara.gov. Free parking is available for National Archives visitors.

“Say it With Snap!” is co-curated and organized by Dulce Maria Roman, Curatorial Chair and Curator of Modern Art at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida in Gainesville; and Jon Williams, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, DE. The exhibition a program of ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance with The Missouri Arts Council and The National Endowment for the Arts.

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