By Heather Young
For a little over two weeks, vintage European posters will hang at Studios on the Park in downtown Paso Robles. The exhibit opened April 30 and will close Sunday, May 17, after Paso Robles Wine Festival.
The show includes original advertising posters from Europe and the United States from 1880 to 1960. According to the exhibit’s description, before the invention of radio, television or the Internet, the primary means by which a company could reach the public was with advertising posters. These designs adorned the walls of buildings first in Europe and eventually around the world and delivered the message to buy things such as: theater and opera productions, travel, transportation, fashion, exhibits, military, and food and beverages. Eventually, the posters became collectible, especially in France. There, people formed poster collecting clubs, published magazines about posters, graphic art and printing, and hosted exhibitions of the finest posters. The collecting was called “afficheomanie” or “poster mania.”
Elizabeth Norris, the owner of the collection in the art gallery, said she caught affichomanie in 1997 and founded Vintage European Posters. Her collection of posters in France and the United States was assembled using a strict criteria: a poster must have been designed for advertising purposes and designed and printed in the same time period. According to Sasha Irving of Studios on the Park, there are no re-strikes or reproductions in her collection and every poster has been washed, mounted and restored for preservation. The collection spans a century, and each poster has a story behind it.
“I believe there are good things from every time period, and so you will find beautiful Belle Époque posters as well as cool mid-century posters in the collection,” Norris said.
Because the posters were printed on cheap paper as they were not expected to last longer than a few weeks, they are fragile, brittle and difficult to handle, so all of the posters are washed and then reinforced with a linen backing. Norris’ collection is broad. “We believe that there are good posters from every time period and country — the Belle Époque, the Art Deco Period, military posters from both of the World Wars, the Post-War Era, as well as the modern and contemporary periods,” Norris said. “Everything we sell is original.”
Based in Berkeley, Norris displays her collection in California and the Pacific Northwest and travels to Europe in search of the posters. While she said she used to go to Europe at least once a year, she stopped going as frequently because the exchange rate wasn’t that good. Now that it has improved, she said, she has two trips planned to Europe this year to search for vintage posters.
“I literally don’t pass over anything I think is good,” Norris said. “I’ve made it a mission to find any and all posters that still exist.”
Norris said that her business is mobile and shows are easily able to be taken on the road. It was at a show in Culver City that Norris met Irving and Studios on the Park Artistic Director Anne Laddon, who “just happened to be shopping there.”
Because the posters show what Norris describes as “all that is good in the world,” such as bicycles, coffee, wine, food and other things, she thought they’d be a perfect fit for Paso Robles Wine Country. She visited Paso Robles earlier this year to check out the area before bringing her vintage posters. Once she got here, she knew it was the right place.
Norris and her crew not only brought the 20 posters that are currently hanging in the gallery, but also 1,000 unframed posters. All of the posters are in order chronologically. When visiting the gallery, Norris said that the viewers can see the posters in order when they walk clockwise. Norris’ crew will return for wine festival weekend with wine-related posters and those that people requested to see in person.
To view Norris’ vintage poster collection, click here.