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Propaganda catalog featuring a series of pro-American war paintings by Thomas Hart Benton

Object | Accession Number: 2015.609.13

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    Brief Narrative
    Catalog owned by Harold Lehman featuring reproductions of Thomas Hart Benton’s series of ten anti-fascist paintings created after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The images show what could happen if America were to be attacked in the Midwest. Benton originally created these pieces to strengthen American patriotism and warn Americans of the dangers of isolationism. The catalog was widely distributed and part of a massive anti-fascist propaganda publicity campaign that utilized the images. Thomas Hart Benton was an artist born in Neosho, Missouri. He produced paintings, lithographs, and murals and contributed to the Regionalist Movement which captured rural American life during the 1920s. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was faced with an impending war. Benton, along with many other artists of the time, chose to use their work to make political statements. Award winning painter, muralist and sculptor, Harold Lehman was known for making political statements with his artwork. He was born and raised in New York City, but moved to Los Angeles as a teenager, attending the Otis Art Institute. While in L.A. he worked with Phil Guston, Jackson Pollock, D.A. Siqueiros, and Manuel Tolegain. In 1941, Harold moved back to New York and continued his career, working with the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) and the Federal Art Project, both New Deal programs to employ artists. Like Thomas Hart Benton, Lehman worked with the Treasury department and Abbott Laboratories to create, pro-American propaganda, and anti-fascist pieces.
    The Year of Peril: A Series of War Paintings
    creation:  1942
    publication: Chicago (Ill.)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Lisa Lehman Trager
    front cover, bottom, printed, tan ink : STARRY NIGHT / The Year of Peril / A SERIES OF WAR PAINTINGS BY Thomas Benton
    Artist: Thomas H. Benton
    Original owner: Harold Lehman
    Publisher: Abbott Laboratories
    Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was an artist born in Neosho, Missouri. He served in the Navy during World War I. He produced paintings, lithographs, and murals and contributed to the Regionalist Movement, which captured rural American life during the 1920s and 1930s. Benton also used his artwork to protest the fascist dictatorships of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin in the 1930s.
    Harold Lehman (1913-2006) was born in New York City, New York to Abraham and Rachel Lehman, immigrants from Europe who arrived in New York at the turn of the twentieth century. Early on, Harold’s father struggled to find consistent employment, working as a mailman and a vaudeville dancer. Later he found steady work as an insurance agent and then left the family and moved to California. His mother was a seamstress. Harold had a twin brother and was one of five children. Harold was part Jewish, and went through synagogue as a boy. The family lived in the West side of Brooklyn and then in the Bronx. In February 1930, Harold and his older brother Charlie moved to California to live with their father.

    In California, Harold enrolled at the Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. There he formed lifelong friendships with future notable artists such as Phil Guston, Jackson Pollock, and Manuel Tolegain. Early in his art career, Harold worked primarily as a sculptor. He used plaster and clay as well as carving directly in stone. In 1931, after graduating from Manual Arts, Lehman won a citywide competition for a yearlong scholarship to the Otis Art Institute. In 1932, after leaving Otis, Harold focused on painting and began working with painter D.A. Siqueiros, joining his “Bloc of Painters,” a group of artists with socialist leanings. In 1933, Harold won second place in the Los Angeles Museum’s annual competition of painters and sculptors. In 1933 and 1934, Harold did work for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) a New Deal program to employ artists.

    In 1935, Harold felt he had gone as far as he could in Los Angeles, and returned to New York City. There he painted murals for the Federal Art Project, another New Deal program created to employ artists, and sold paintings at exhibits and shows. During this time he continued working with Siqueiros and began experimenting with different types of paints, lacquers and application methods. In 1936 and 1937, Harold created paintings opposing the Fascists and the German and Italian intervention in the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, Harold painted a mural for the World’s Fair in New York. While working with Siqueiros, Harold also designed floats for several New York City parades promoting the Allied war effort and denouncing fascism. In the fall of 1941, Harold fell while painting a mural and broke both his arms. While recuperating, Harold was called up for service by the draft board. With the combination of his broken arms, his disinclination towards violence, his inability to take orders and his work as an artist for federal programs, he was able to get a deferral.

    In 1942, Harold moved from New York City to Woodstock, NY where he created several war paintings for the Section of Fine Arts and the Treasury Department. Around this time, Harold was approached by Arnold Blanch and Reeves Lewenthal, from the Associated American Artist Gallery. Through a partnership with Associated American Artists and the United States Treasury Department, Abbott Laboratories created a program to create advertisements and illustrations for its medical journal What’s New and for the United States Government’s War Department through their Schools-At-War program. They provided Harold with poster themes and he was free to create within that setting. The series of posters was created through the auspices of the Treasury Department and were successfully published nationwide. In 1943, two of Harold’s war posters were featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s Artists for Victory exhibit. In 1945, in response to the revelation of the atrocities of the Holocaust, Harold did many blackened drawings of prisoners and the camps.

    In 1946, Harold left Woodstock and returned to New York City. He continued easel painting, sculpting, and photography. He also began teaching art from his studio on West 21st Street. In 1950, Lehman met Leona Koutras, who had come to his studio for art lessons. Two years later they married and had two children. In the 1970s Harold worked as designer and scenic artist for CBS and NBC television.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Catalog; 10 color plates; 32 cm. Catalog featuring reproductions of Thomas Hart Benton’s series of ten Pro-American paintings created after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The cover features an image of a man drowning with a ship in flames sinking in the background. The pages and covers are a dark olive drab green. One of the two spine staples is missing, there is white powdery residue throughout on the pages, and two of the pages are taped together.
    overall: Height: 12.500 inches (31.75 cm) | Width: 9.875 inches (25.083 cm)
    overall : paper, metal, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

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    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The catalog was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2015 by Lisa Lehman Trager, the daughter of Harold Lehman.
    Record last modified:
    2023-05-22 11:02:59
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