ADAPTING AN EXISTING WORK OF ART FOR USE AS A FUND-RAISING POSTER SIMPLY BY ADDING TEXT
Armenian News Network
April 24, 2021
Special to Groong by Eugene L. Taylor and Abraham D. Krikorian
Long Island, NY
One poster that has been touted over the years by more than a few as having been generated by an especially talented artist was entitled “Give or We Perish.” We plan here to concentrate on that poster.
Władysław Teodor Benda (1873-1948), who most often went by W.T. Benda, was the artist of the work. He immigrated to America from Poland in 1898 and became a naturalized US citizen in July 1911. He became quite well known within several years of his arrival in New York and quickly became much appreciated for his work in various commercial ventures, especially somewhat later in the making of theater masks for stage productions and the like. For our purposes here, we shall stick to his poster “Give or We Perish” for the American Committee for Relief in the Near East. Most would agree that this is an attractive poster and becomes especially so if it is framed properly. (See Figs. 1 a and 1 e. below?)
● The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs offers a free download for this poster. The catalog entry reads:- Title: Give or we perish American Committee for Relief in the Near East--Armenia-Greece-Syria-Persia--Campaign for $30,000,000. W.T. Benda ; Alco-Gravure Inc., N.Y.
● Creator(s):, Benda, Wladyslaw T. (Wladyslaw Theodore, 1873-, artist
● Date Created/Published: 
● Medium: 1 print (poster) : lithograph ; 85 x 56 cm.
● Summary: Poster showing a woman clutching a shawl around her shoulders.
● Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-9643 (color film copy transparency)
● Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. For information see "World War I Posters" (http://lcweb.loc.gov/rr/print/res/243_wwipos.html)
● Call Number: POS - US. B45, no. 4 (C size) [P&P]
● Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
o Issued by U.S. Committee on Public Information, Division of Pictorial Publicity.
o Monogram in block, DPP.
Closeup of the lower left side of the poster to show Benda’s hallmark ‘signature.’
Closeup of lower right side of the poster - DPP stands for Department of Pictorial Publicity.
(See Eric Van Schraak, 2005, The division of Pictorial Publicity in World War I.
Design Issues vol. 20, winter no.1, pgs. 32-45.)
Closeup of an annotated sticker attached to an old Benda poster dating from the period when it was displayed for soliciting funds. That brief sticker label adds to it in a way not seen on the poster itself.
The following poster (Fig. 1e.) was initially drawn by W.T. Benda and was produced in gravure. It is 22 x 33 inches in dimension. Half a million were apparently produced, chiefly for use in window displays.
(This information derives from information given in New Near East vol. 2, No. 7, December 1918, (unpaginated) used by us at the Minnesota Historical Society Library and Archives, St. Paul.)
Framed poster to show that a very attractive product can emerge after framing.
Ordinarily one would say that this is a rather complete entry on such an item, and hopefully the close-ups help a viewer to examiner some of the finer points about the poster.
All said and done, the fact that the date is in brackets in the Library of Congress description, means that 1919 is not definitive.
In fact the poster collection at Hoover Institution, Stanford University which offers digitized views of its extensive holdings, suggests a date for this Benda poster as “1917/1918?” (See https://digitalcollections.hoover.org/objects/36358).
Their description also draws attention to the notation in pencil at the bottom of their copy of the poster “Campaign Week January 12 to January 19 . The goal of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief indeed was to raise $30,000,000 to “Relieve and Save Starving Peoples of the Near East” but some slight delays were required, and nationwide efforts had to begin a bit later.
If any researcher wants to do a more thorough job in dating the Benda poster one might access the Catalogue of Copyright Entries Part 4, Library of Congress 1918 New Series, volume 13, No.4, Published at the Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C.,1919. There is an entry confirming that “Give or We Perish” was copyrighted Dec. 3, 1918.
In the 21 December 1918 of the Saturday Evening Post, published in Philadelphia, one finds an attractive and sympathetic plea for funds in which the Benda poster features prominently (see Figs. 2a and 2b.)
From The Saturday Evening Post, vol. 191, no. 25, pg. 1 (December 21, 1918).
Note that the sponsor of this page is the Brown Shoe Company. St. Louis, Missouri.
Enlargement of the upper portion of the page.
The treatment given in The Poster magazine surely gives the idea that the Benda poster had been produced specifically for fundraising efforts (See Fig. 3)
From “Posters used for Near East Relief. American Committee for Relief of Armenians and Syrians Employs Posters to Obtain Fund of $30,000,000 from American People. ̶ Excellent Designs of Stirring Appeal Made by Noted Artists” by J. Thomson Willing in The Poster. An Illustrated Monthly Magazine devoted to Poster Advertising and Poster Art. Volume X, No. 1, January, 1919 pgs. 27-29; 69;71. Mr. Willing worked in the Division of Pictorial Publicity, DPP. The famous artist William Oberhardt wrote in the November issue of The International Studio vol. 69, no. 273, 1919 that Willing was one of the best heads in the Division and it was due to his earnest efforts that the Campaign for the Relief of Armenia and the Near East, and other efforts were so successful.
Willing’s commentary on the Benda and two other posters (one by Douglas Volk and another by William B. [Berdan] King) asserts that “From an artistic standpoint this series has probably not been excelled by any other group of war posters” (pg.30).
In Cartoons Magazine, vol. No. 4 April 1919 the editor apparently felt comfortable enough to refer to the posters as “Recent” and included Benda’s “Give or We Perish” cf. pg. 559 with description “A figure from a poster design by one of America’s greatest masters of the crayon, W.T. Benda.” See Fig. 4.
Severely cropped to feature “Give or We Perish”
from Cartoons Magazine. Volume 15, no. 4, April 1919 pg. 559.
There are some newspaper ads of the period, for example in Kansas, that include Benda’s poster that sought to solicit funds for Jews AND Armenians under the heading Jewish-Armenian Relief Campaign for War Sufferers in the Near East.
Upon delving more into the background of this poster, we learn that W.T. Benda published the same image considerably earlier in Century Magazine vol. 86, no. 6, October 1913 in a brief series featuring some of his art work entitled “New-Made Americans. A few types of foreign women sketched, in New York, from Life.” The image, captioned “Laïla, from Mesopotamia” was the first of the women of the series presented to the reader.
Drawing of a Mesopotamian woman named “Laïla, who ended up being used as the ‘Poster Woman’ for the $30,000,000 drive by the American Committee for Relief in the Near East in late December 1918 and early 1919.
A couple of points are in order. Some might argue that the main fund-raising effort was on behalf of Armenians. But it was not an Armenian woman who was portrayed in the poster making the plea. No matter. After all, a cynic might say, “Are not “all” these ‘Near Eastern Types’ “six of one, half- a dozen of the other”? Not that many people in America had a clue as to who was who, what they looked like or certainly what they might have worn. Mesopotamia may just as well be on the moon.
To the modern day ‘expert’ observer of period regional costumes, it would be clear that our Benda woman’s head dress was “giveaway” and indeed far more typical of women of the land between the Rivers rather than the highlands of historic Armenia.
We will refrain from critical commentary on the drawing of the image of Laïla. There have been many attempts at this. Many have drawn attention to her headdress, which to many would seem unusual.
Please note the headgear in particular in this photograph. We believe that the headdress of the females, even female youngsters in this photo, may well have been typical of the woman shown in “Give or we perish.” It strongly suggests that the young woman who W.T. Benda drew was dressed in her traditional garb although she had emigrated to America. (She may have been asked by Benda to pose for him “in costume” and might well have received a bit of remuneration for the “sitting.” In connection with her head wear, cf. especially the article by Frederick Simpich and Margaret Simpich entitled “Where Adam and Eve lived” in National Geographic Magazine vol. 6, Dec., pgs. 546-588, at pg. 588 (1914).
A question that remains in our minds, albeit admittedly a rather minor one, is whether the caption for the poster was ‘married up’ so to speak with the text of the plea “Give or We Perish” at the time of the winter-spring campaign, or whether it had a different caption earlier, or even lacked a caption but was being contemplated for use as a bona fide poster after addition of appropriate text.
We wondered about this when we saw a framed photograph of the Benda ‘poster’ hanging on the wall behind a group photograph of the Executive Committee of the Near East Relief. Because the lower portion of the poster is not visible, we hesitate to say that the framed photo of what we think is the ‘final’ Benda poster has a caption. (See Fig. 8.) Look carefully at the wall in Fig. 8 to see the poster.
Near East Relief Committee Members.
If one were to hazard a guess, one would conclude “Yes, it does have text at the bottom. The question now is whether any of this information can help us establish a more exact date for Benda’s poster being available for use in fund raising. It is stated that the Executive Committee group photo dates from January 1916. James L. Barton, in his “Story of the Near East Relief (1915-1930). An interpretation” (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1930) fcg. pg. 8, asserts in its opening caption “Executive Committee taken upon return of Ambassador Morgenthau and William W. Peet from Constantinople in January, 1916...” This statement is imprecise.
Henry Morgenthau did indeed return to the USA in February 1916, but W.W. Peet did not arrive in America until December 1917. He ended up leaving Turkey and stayed in Switzerland with a party of 33 missionaries until May 1917. (NY Tribune May 19, 1917 pg. 7). It was several months later that Peet and his wife Martha were back in America (December 26, 1917 fide Ellis Island in a Single Step). That would make a big difference in the composition of the Committee who were sitting for the group photo in Fig. 8.
Conclusion: The Executive Committee photograph would have to have been taken considerably later than in 1916. Whatever. It is a minor point but it would have some significance for establishing the date of the image, first published in 1913, as an ACRNE poster. One thing is quite certain, Dr. Dutton died of a heart attacked in Atlantic City NJ while on vacation on March 18, 1919. That must be taken as a date after which this photograph could not have been taken.
A caption to the same photograph published years earlier in the New Near East magazine was non-committal as to date when it stated “An early meeting of the Near East Relief Committee. First row, left to right: Hon. Henry Morgenthau, Mr. Cleveland H. Dodge, Dr. James L. Barton, Dr. Samuel T. Dutton. Standing: Mr. Alexander J. Hemphill. Mr. Mr. Harold A. Hatch, Mr. Stanley White, Dr. William Peet, Mr. Edwin M. Bulkley, Mr. Charles V. Vickrey.” (Fig. 8).
So, at this point, we will have to be satisfied with the rough dating that it is very late 1917 to early1918 availability of the poster as finally used for fund raising. Also, as an aside, William Wheelock Peet did not gain the title of “Dr.” until the spring of 1917 when his alma mater, Grinnell College in Iowa conferred an honorary degree LL.D. on him. In 1926 he was conferred another LL.D., this time by the University of Vermont. Based on this we believe he would not have been referred to as “Dr.” before 1917. The poster as a 1916 ‘production’ is completely out of the question in our opinion.
As an interesting and perhaps relevant aside, in January of 1918 there were a few articles published in American newspapers that reported the apprehension of a German spy in Porto Rico. One title read “Suspect Master Spy Sent Code in Drawing” (see New York Tribune January 23, 1918 pg. 2). A man named Werner K.R.W. Sturzel was described as a brilliant young German master spy of Teutonic interests in the Caribbean, and regarded as one of the most dangerous and elusive aliens with which the Department of Justice and the Secret Service have had to cope.
After his arrest the spy was taken from New York City to Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., under an armed guard. He had been brought to New York City earlier from Puerto-Rico. Another article told the story that “His most ingenious trick, to get secret information to Germany via Spain, was in the form of a line and wash drawing he made for the Puerto Rico Ilustrado in 1917. It appeared as a cover design of that periodical in the issue of January 5 of this year. Sturzel was aware that his cryptic illustration would fall into proper hands in Barcelona, Valencia, or Cartagena and eventually reach the German destination for which they were intended. Persons familiar with the handling of code and cryptograms have expressed the belief that in his frontispiece Sturzel may have revealed an invaluable map relative to American fortifications and general activities in the Caribbean.”
Fig. 9. below shows that Sturzel ‘borrowed’ W.T. Benda’s drawing of Leïla. He did not himself, we would maintain, “draw” it. He can be credited with re-drawing it and adapting it for his own tawdry purposes.
The caption reads “Above is the cover design of the “Puerto Rico Ilustrado,” a society journal of San Juan, Port Rico. The picture, a cryptic head, was drawn by Werner K.R.W. Stürzel, a confessed German spy, taken yesterday for internment at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Stürzel has drawn into the picture marks and images which are supposed to be code letters conveying information to the German government. These figures are easily distinguishable immediately over the signature [see lower left] and in many other places throughout the illustration., It is obvious that many of the lines were not intended to add beauty or grace to the picture. The strange images are seen to best advantage under a magnifying glass. By means of the drawing, according to some authorities, the spy conveyed his messages to Germany by way of Spain, where the Puerto Rico Ilustrado has a large circulation.”
We admit we are not clever enough to discern exactly what the writer of the newspaper article is trying to say in his code. We are not, obviously, code specialists. There are a number of places on Leïla’s shawl and headpiece that have additions and changes from the original art work drawn by Benda. The head garment is but one place that uses symbols that are suspicious.
From a newspaper article that attempted to reproduce the original cover image. We don’t think it was a very successful reproduction. Fig. 10 which we have reproduced at Fig. 9 from the January 5, 1918 cover of Puerto Rico Ilustrado is clearly a higher quality reproduction. The key point for us here is that ‘spy’ Stürzel was able to ‘doctor’ the Benda image and sign and date it 1917 in the lower right hand corner. This is very apparent from the original published image in Puerto Rico Ilustrado (Año IX, num. 410, 5 January 1918 which is simply captioned in Spanish, “Tipo Arabe,” meaning “Arab Type.” All that we know means that Stürzel may have used the October 1913 image of Leïla published by W.T. Benda in the Century Magazine. To us, it seems less likely that Stürzel would have used an American Committee for Relief in the Near East Poster as his model but who knows for certain? Our opinion is purely based on speculation.
Another interesting feature of the Stürzel ‘spy photo’ is that it was so admired that it ended up being used in espionage classes as a teaching tool. (See Tribune photo an aid in espionage lectures. New York Tribune Sunday Feb. 3, 1918 pg. 9).
Clearly, W.T. Benda’s art work has an interesting history. One that is far more involved than one might guess at first glance.
In closing, we want to point out that oftentimes one thinks that more details might be forthcoming with a little more effort. That is not always the case. Jadwiga Irena Daniec (1916-2016; born in Poland and died in the USA after immigrating here years ago) wrote an article in 1994 entitled In the footsteps of W.T. Benda, 1873-1948) in The Polish Review, vol. 39, no. 1, pgs. 21-43. In it we read Benda is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Center Moriches, Long Island. Since we live on Long Island in Suffolk county where Center Moriches is located, we decided to do some research. It went nowhere. We contacted the Cemetery, and actually went to the Cemetery where we were kindly shown everything that might have been relevant to Benda or his wife or her family. We were guided by the caretaker, Steve Scerri, a fellow very familiar with the cemetery who among other things maintains the lawns etc. Turns out there is no Benda grave, and in fact, where it might have been has no gravestone or grave marker. In a word, Benda is not buried where Jadwiga Daniec states she was told he is buried.
The family of Mrs. Romola Campfield Benda has a few people who may be relatives, distant or close, buried at the Cemetery but they are not very specific as to who was who. Her parents were George A. Campfield and his wife Lillian Petty. They seem not to be buried there.
Mrs. Benda herself who died in August 1974 is said to be buried in Connecticut. A careful examination of the area at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Center Moriches, Lot. 59, “owned by the Heirs of Jeremiah Petty” showed little. We have not bothered to delve further into the genealogy. It seems that little would be gained because there is no identifiable grave extant.
So there we have it, a major artist and talented illustrator has left no bodily remains that can be pointed out to those who might want to pay their respects. There remains one possibility that we have not pursued. Mrs. Benda may have had her husband exhumed and is now buried with her in Connecticut. Someone else will have to follow-up on that should it be deemed important enough.
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