“The Wolfsonian is an ideal environment for a scholar like me, for anyone who is looking at big issues in the twentieth century,” says Jill Bugajski, a fellow in residence at The Wolfsonian for much of February. A Ph.D. candidate in the department of art history at Northwestern University, Bugajski spent her weeks at The Wolfsonian working on a few different projects, one being research for her dissertation Red Dilemma: America Art, the Red Scares and the Second World War 1939–49, which investigates visual art and exhibitions in the United States in connection to the changing nature of relations with the Soviet Union and the Second World War. In her dissertation she explores how activist agencies and artists promoted Soviet culture in the U.S. through visual media and the reactions of Americans in the art and design worlds.
“I’m investigating the prehistory of the Cold War. I started out as a Cold War art historian but as I got deeper into the field, I realized the origins of the questions I was asking were in an earlier time. I had to go back to the 1940s and I had to address the Soviet Union,” she says. “Instead of investigating what happened during the cultural Cold War, my questions became, ‘How did the Cold War come to be?’ and ‘How did the image of the Soviet Union become construed as an enemy by the U.S.?’ ”
Bugajski’s interest in this topic was also spurred by working on the exhibition Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad 1941–45 at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was a research and curatorial associate in the Department of Prints and Drawings. “The 1940s is an understudied decade, a misunderstood decade,” she says. “There’s acknowledgement that 1945 was the dawn of a new era, but how and why did that happen? There’s also a perception that war stops culture, that artists were not producing during the Second World War, and that is not true.”
At The Wolfsonian she concentrated on researching materials that document the scope of Soviet-American cultural relations between 1917 and 1956 and particularly pro- and anti- Soviet/Communist activism in the U.S. during 1917–39. One of her major discoveries at The Wolfsonian was a rare, large poster (64 in x 34 in) that she had acquired an image of for her dissertation, but had not previously been able to locate. The poster, with type across the top proclaiming “You have your share of labor’s job for victory,” was used to illustrate the cover of a 1943 Artists League of America newsletter. “This was a tremendous find for me. I’ve never seen another example of one of these posters anywhere. It’s a particular example of American artists copying Soviet methods,” she explains. Of her overall experience, she says, “It’s been fantastic. I’ve looked at a lot of things I never knew existed and added to my body of knowledge of the 1940s.”
Bugajski is one of three scholars awarded a fellowship for 2012–13 through The Wolfsonian’s Fellowship Program. Inaugurated in 1995, the program has hosted more than seventy scholars to date.
Print, Parachute Practice, 1942
Harry Gottlieb (American, b. Romania, 1895-1993)
20-1/8 x 13-1/8 in (51.1 x 33.3 cm)
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection