- Associated Press - Sunday, August 21, 2016

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - If “politics ain’t beanbag,” as the saying goes, then the reality seems to be that political jousting is a time-honored tradition in our body politic.

While the current presidential election campaign in the U.S. may be knuckle-dragging its way through the pit of incivility, politics has always been ripe for tough talk, satire and ridicule. In the same breath, editorial cartoons stir the pot and prime the pump of political banter and water cooler conversation.

The Texarkana Gazette (https://bit.ly/2bwc4Uv ) reports that historically, modern political cartoons became a gung-ho indicator of the fractious nature of politics during the rise of newspapers, whether they’ve skewered the people involved or taken a hatchet to issues contested.

Two temporary Texarkana Museums System exhibits showcase political cartoons, one at the PJ Ahern Home and another at the Ace of Clubs House.

A third exhibit at the Museum of Regional History_all three are displayed through the end of August_focuses on a man Texarkana knows quite well: longtime U.S. Congressman Wright Patman.

Public Image: Political Cartoons and Election Memorabilia from the TMS Collections includes original cartoons that depict Patman, a Democrat who staked his claim to popularity here by fighting as a populist for the common worker.

Drawing on Arkansas Politics at the Ahern Home focuses on a group of Arkansas cartoonists whose works arrive here from the Old State House Collections. Arkansas cartoonists include George Fisher, whose work was printed across the nation, as well as Jon Kennedy, Roger Harvell, Tommy Durham, Vic Harvill and Jon Deering.

Running for Office: Candidates, Campaigns and the Cartoons of Clifford Berryman features one of the deans of the modern editorial cartoon in Berryman, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

His work appeared in the Washington Post and Washington Evening Star, but now you can see Berryman’s classic cartoons at the Ace of Clubs, situated throughout the first floor.

The MoRH’s exhibit includes permanently displayed artifacts from Patman’s office (his desk from his Washington, D.C., office, for example) and political ephemera like presidential campaign buttons. The campaign buttons point to perhaps a simpler time of promoting one’s candidate, compared to the Tweets and Facebook memes of today.

Cartoons that depict Patman came from the pen of cartoonist John Baer. They were donated by the Patman family.

“These are the originals, so we’re incredibly lucky that we have the originals,” said Jamie Simmons, curator for the Texarkana Museums System, noting we can see that they’re originals because they have that old-fashioned cut-and-paste.

“These are all from the ‘30s, which would have been early in his career,” Simmons said.

They’re a lesson in Patman’s activities as a Northeast Texas representative in Congress. One cartoon depicts Uncle Sam bopping Big Steel with a two-by-four. Also referenced here is the Robinson-Patman Act, which protects small business owners from chain stores, said the curator.

“There are different issues being portrayed in this middle cartoon here, but Wright Patman is being depicted as the warrior for the little guy, basically is how that reads,” Simmons said. These cartoons explore issues still prevalent in today’s society, such as free trade, workers’ rights and taxes.

One local document displayed among the political ephemera includes instructions to voters. Dating from 1925, it includes information on the poll tax, which limited democratic participation in the voting process.

“You will find some little key things that were used to basically restrict other people’s voting rights,” Simmons said. The poll tax harmed the voting rights of minorities, for example.

“That’s part of the reason so many different politicians were often able to maintain power for long periods of time, as well,” Simmons said.

Drawing from the TMS archives, the exhibit includes campaign buttons, too, plugging presidential candidates like John W. Davis, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, Alfred Smith and others. One reads: “Win with Win. Rockefeller for governor.” This part of the temporary exhibit is available as a traveling exhibit, Simmons said.

Over at the Ahern Home, cartoons depict Natural State politics through the decades.

“Drawing on Arkansas Politics kind of features some of the most well-known Arkansas political cartoonists who work in the state of Arkansas. Not all of them were born in Arkansas. George Fisher is the most recognizable. He was known nationally. His cartoons often appeared in national newspapers,” said Simmons.

Simmons remembers from growing up that anyone who took the Gazette would’ve been familiar with Fisher’s signature. “If you liked the political cartoons, which I did,” she said.

That’s the Arkansas Gazette, which the Arkansas Democrat later absorbed. Fisher then moved to the Arkansas Times. His career spanned roughly five decades, Simmons said, and he died while working at his drawing table.

“Most of these artists have very long careers,” she said. It’s the sort of field where, if you know what you’re doing, your career is pretty much set, she notes. And like other cartoonists, Fisher could tackle just about any subject.

“You’re kind of outside of the political rhetoric and shining a light of satire on it. It doesn’t matter what side of an issue you’re on personally, there’s something funny in it,” Simmons said.

One of Fisher’s most famous cartoons dealt with the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, however, in a poignant way. Fisher also hid his wife’s name in his cartoons.

For a cartoon satirist, the curator believes, different expectations come into play, giving them leeway, and the range of issues they can tackle is wide.

“Keep in mind that in his career, he would have covered the Clinton governorship, all the way up through Clinton’s run for president,” Simmons said. His visual caricature of Clinton pictured the young politician as a floppy-haired, boyish man.

Cartoonists in Arkansas employ pointed humor in dealing with political and social realities, of course, such as one cartoon displayed at the Ahern that depicts what appears to be a government official declaring, “What, you mean there’s gambling going on in Hot Springs?”

The Ace of Clubs exhibit largely consists of Berryman’s work, although some others are included, too. He became an icon in D.C. circles and won the respect of politicians there.

“He’s really considered the father of political cartooning. His career began in 1891,” Simmons said. He drew his way to a career that stretched to 1949. “If you think about it, he bridged the gap between 19th century politics and the birth of modern politics and modern elections, really.”

She observes that elections were vastly different when Berryman began. There were restrictions on who voted even beyond gender and race. “The way elections were set up were prohibitive even for a poor white male who couldn’t vote either,” she said. They couldn’t afford the poll tax or couldn’t make it to the polling place.

The recognizable image of a teddy bear in political cartoons is one that Berryman helped popularize, said Simmons.

“Also with the whole idea of using the donkey for the Democrats and the elephant for the Republicans,” she said of this visual shorthand.


Information from: Texarkana Gazette, https://www.texarkanagazette.com

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