Robert Beebe, What Are Loafers Paid?, 1923, color lithograph, 30 1/2 x 43 1/4 inches, collection The Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE.
Between 1923 and 1929, Chicago-based Mather & Company answered the needs of a rapidly changing American work force by issuing colorful posters with catchy slogans designed to cajole, coax, and even admonish employees to perform at their best.
While the content of some of these posters — such as “Don’t Worry Till it Happens. Everything is for the Best,” 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.
Brought on by the rise of
the assembly line and the impact of technology like electricity and the telephone,
industrial America in the teens and twenties was not the place it had been a
decade or two earlier. Charles Mather had only to look around
“Say It With Snap!” surveys the visual strategies and thinking behind 48 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 their designs all 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.
Although the theme of workplace
motivation may not seem like an inspirational topic,
Co-curator Dulce Roman of the
*In-region states (Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas) are eligible for a $1,000 Public Programming Grant from Mid-America Arts Alliance. Contact MoreArt@maaa.org for more information.