Remembering World War I at Old Westbury Gardens

Staircase at Old Westbury Gardens

Staircase at Old Westbury Gardens

As we get ready to celebrate Labor Day weekend, I wanted to draw your attention to Old Westbury Gardens, the former country estate of the Phipps family in Old Westbury, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by presenting a number of exhibits and lectures.

My father was great supporter of Old Westbury Gardens’ preservation, and he was on its board of directors for a time. They used to allow him to go there in the early morning to photograph the flowers, as that was one of his great passions. Dad was a true believer in working hard, but also resting and pursuing his interests outside of work. I’ve tried to remember that and continue the tradition. It’s a great message for Labor Day, when we stop and appreciate the hard work of others by giving them an extra day off.

World War I posters

World War I posters at the Old Westbury Gardens exhibit

When I heard that the gardens were organizing an exhibit, The Great War: Portraits of Privilege, Duty, and Sacrifice, I offered to lend my collection of WWI posters. The show’s curator selected 16 posters to include from my collection of 30. I hope you’ll stop by to see the exhibit, open until Oct. 7.

I was inspired to start collecting the posters by my father’s passion for art. He collected 19th century British landscape paintings, 20th century lithographs, and Art Nouveau silver, I started collecting WWI posters in 1977. The posters attracted me because they were historical, colorful, beautifully rendered, and affordable. I selected posters focused on two main themes: helping the war effort and international refugees.

Women were featured prominently in many of the posters – certainly some of the most famous. There were other types of posters that highlighted the more violent images of war, but I wanted to live with the art I collected, so I steered away from disturbing themes.

Esther with Joan of Arc poster at Old Westbury Gardens

Esther with one of the posters that highlight women on the home front aiding the troops

I purchased my first poster for $40, a considerable sum in the 1970’s. Illustrated by artist Haskell Coffin, it uses the image of Joan of Arc to encourage American women to be strong and support their country and the war effort by purchasing war savings stamps. If Joan of Arc could save France, American women could save America! Coffin specialized in images of women and was one of the most successful illustrators of his era, designing covers for popular magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Redbook and McCall’s. The Joan of Arc poster remains one of my favorites.

I like to think that my father would be proud of my posters being shown at Old Westbury Gardens. He was a Renaissance man, and he’d be glad to see I’ve continued to be a collector, too, and that the gardens are still flourishing. Happy Labor Day!

You can learn more about the World War I commemoration activities at the gardens by clicking here:
https://www.oldwestburygardens.org/se_wwi_centennial_2018.htm.

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