The 99% Resist
Gallery exhibit runs through Feb. 26 at the Barnes-Franklin Gallery at Tunxis Community College, Farmington. tunxis.edu
Pack rats of the world, unite!
Follow the example of Stephen Lewis, and your poster collection could be on display in as many as half-a-dozen galleries and libraries around New England simultaneously. It always helps if there's some historical significance to what you're refusing to throw away, of course. The labor movement posters on display at the Barnes-Franklin Gallery at Tunxis Community College, through Feb. 26, "The 99% Resist" exhibit, have this going for them, and there's plenty more where they came from.
Readers and viewers might recall a little recent unpleasantness in Wisconsin; if not, a big blue fist in a field of red, courtesy of the AFL-CIO, just might jog their memories. Remember Occupy Wall Street, and the wrath of the "ninety-nine percent" toward the banks? Well, they had their own version of that in Portugal, represented by a poster with a little bank-robber imagery. This might be the first time many in Connecticut get to see such images, as our news media tend to yawn at the first mention of activism or unions.
Lewis began collecting union posters some 30 years ago, back when he was an activist with SEIU local 509 in Massachusetts. For the past 12 years, he served as the union's full-time treasurer, but having retired in September, he is now a full-time curator/hobbyist. "I used to go to international conferences on various things, more on my own than representing the union in anything," Lewis recalled. "People would bring these beautiful posters from their own country, and I would grab one of each just because I liked the art, or the message, and I'd bring them home."
About 10 years ago, something clicked for Lewis, and he began putting together exhibits and contacting venues, which were surprisingly receptive. It started with the exhibit spaces in the Heritage State parks in the cities of Lawrence and Holyoke. The Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, R.I., was another obvious choice. He applied for funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and put that money toward "low-budget frames" to enhance the exhibit potential of his collection.
"About three years ago, it dawned on me — I don't know why I hadn't thought of it sooner — to go to the unions for some money," he said.
Funding from the 4C's, the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges, made the current exhibit at Tunxis possible. "One of the executive board officers was up in Massachusetts and saw one of my exhibits — a 68-poster exhibit at the Chelmsford Library — and really liked it," Lewis recalled. The union paid for the travel miles for Lewis to set up the exhibit at Tunxis in Farmington.
More of Stephen Lewis' posters are currently on display at libraries around Massachusetts, including the town libraries of Carlisle, Sudbury, Georgetown, Rowley and Westfield; and Holyoke Heritage State Park and Lawrence Heritage State Park. "My plan is to try to have three exhibits up each month," Lewis said.