Saturday August 11, 2012

SHEFFIELD -- From Thomas Nast to Paul Szep to Garry Trudeau, political cartoonists have been a part of American and world politics since before the United States was the United States.

These artists and many more are part of an exhibition created by Paul Banevicius and sponsored by the Sheffield Historical Society. The show is called "Drawing the Line: Political Cartoons in America." The exhibit runs until Sept. 3 at the Old Stone Store on Main Street.

Banevicius is the chairman of the art department of Berkshire School. But he moonlights as a collector of both comic and political cartoon art. It was a bug that bit him in the early 1970s, when he began contacting artists and asking them for original artwork.

In those days, before original art was a cultural landmark, many artists Banevicius contacted would freely send him art. These days, he augments his collection by going to dealers or eBay. But he still loves it.

The present exhibit is a meticulously constructed gallery that traces political cartoons from the mid-1700s to the modern day. Banevicius breaks the exhibit into chapters, all featuring work by prominent cartoonists, such as Nast, John Leitch and George Cruikshank to more modern purveyors of the genre such as Trudeau and Szep.

Szep, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for The Boston Globe, was a personal favorite of Banevicius, "although I'm found of all of them." Banevicius recalled meeting Szep at The Globe, only a few weeks before he won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1974.

"It was pretty exciting," said Banevicius, who coaxed an original cartoon out of Szep.

But there are also iconic cartoons from other artists, including Nast, who is credited as being the "Father of American political cartoonists."

"Nast created the Republican elephant and the image of Santa Claus as we know him today," said Banevicius.

Another cartoon from his collection, featuring President Bill Clinton by Boston Herald cartoonist Jerry Holbert.
Another cartoon from his collection, featuring President Bill Clinton by Boston Herald cartoonist Jerry Holbert. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Contrary to popular belief, said Banevicius, Nast did not create the Democratic donkey or Uncle Sam, but he did help popularize those images.

Also in the exhibit are an impressive array of the work of political caricaturists such as Jack Davis and Mort Drucker. The latter two, in addition to their work as political cartoonists, are also well-known for their work with "Mad" magazine. Drucker in particular drew many of "Mad's" popular movie satires for decades.

The Old Stone Store on Main Street is located just north of the Old Parish Church. Hours are Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., or by appointment. Banevicius encouraged those interested in the exhibit to contact him at (413) 229-1129 to arrange a showing.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251
On Twitter: @DerekGentile