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Globe Poster's iconic images live on in new exhibit

The Day-Glo ink is the first thing that catches the eye. Bright green, orange and pink splashed across a Globe Poster alongside some of the most recognizable faces in soul music: Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Otis Redding.

Globe Poster Co. produced the flyers from its industrial print shop in Baltimore for more than 80 years before shutting down in 2010. Globe also printed ads for everything from vaudeville shows to the circus and films. Its influence has spread worldwide and everyone from Japan's Sanrio Co., the maker of Hello Kitty, to New York Magazine, having used the iconic poster design.

Now its posters that promoted legendary African-American musicians from the 1950s through the 1980s will be the star of "Globe Poster: Not to be Missed!" at the Creative Alliance, telling the story to a new generation. The Creative Alliance will host the exhibit, which runs April 27-June 15.

The seven-week event will include posters on display, concerts, panel discussions, workshops and a new documentary. It’s the first time that the Creative Alliance has thematically linked such a diverse array of programming.

While some recognize Globe's unique style, fewer people know of Globe's Baltimore roots and its significant impact on music history. The company remains a cultural force in Baltimore and worldwide. In the same city where music posters were once outlawed, a recent exhibit on the underground music scene at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., featured an array of Globe's posters as fine art.

The Maryland Institute College of Art owns much of its printing materials, which was purchased after Globe shut down. It’s all proof that the traditions started in a tiny shop in Baltimore will live on in new forms, art experts say.

Globe Comes to MICA

Right as the Globe collection arrived at MICA, so did MFA student in curatorial practice, Chloe Helton-Gallagher. As part of her thesis, Gallagher was assigned with curating a show in Baltimore with a local venue.

Partnering with the Creative Alliance was fitting because the last location of Globe Posters was on Bank Street in Highlandtown. The community has had a long attachment to Globe, Gallagher says.

To select posters for the exhibit, Gallagher decided to focus specifically on Globe's legacy with African-American musicians.

"Yes, this is Baltimore story but this little piece of Baltimore went all over the country and made a huge impact," Gallagher says.

Globe at the Creative Alliance

In addition to the poster display, the Creative Alliance exhibit will screen new documentary “Say It Loud!” made by Rei Perri and Baltimore magazine Arts and Culture Editor John Lewis. The film explores Globe Poster’s designs and ties to R&B, funk and Go-Go music.

The industrial print shop's workers carved woodblocks by hand, used artists' publicity photos to transfer the image onto zinc plates and printed the posters in a letterpress.  

"These were blue collar workers, almost 100 percent white men, who defined a visual aesthetic for African-American music. It's so unlikely but so beautiful," Lewis says.

Creative Alliance Associate Education Director Karen Summerville says the seven-week exhibit and events are expected to draw hundreds of visitors. Creative Alliance staff say they can’t quantify the exact number since it’s the first of its kind.

"We saw so much potential in ways that we normally wouldn't have the time to do. We wanted to share that excitement with the community," Summerville says.

Newspaper and radio advertisements were often too costly for musicians, but Globe's posters were always affordable, beautifully designed and effective at generating an audience for shows in the era before the Internet, Lewis says.

"(Globe) was able to make these acts look like stars. Globe had sophisticated designs with multiple acts on a poster," Lewis says.

The posters were put up in largely African-American neighborhoods, including on sides of buildings and cars that were driven around before shows came to town. 

Globe's Demise – and Rise

The rise of personal computers, which allowed musicians to create their own advertising, contributed to the decline of Globe. So did efforts by cities like Washington D.C., which outlawed poster advertising, calling it "visual trash."  

Soon after it closed its doors, Globe owners Bob Cicero and Frank Cicero, whose father purchased the company in the 1970s, sold approximately 75 percent of Globe's printing materials to MICA. The design school also hired Cicero to teach letterpress classes to graduate students.

"Bob had it in his head that he wanted the collection to stay in Baltimore, and beyond that, he wanted it to be used by students,” Lewis says. "Globe was resurrected and reborn.”

Alexandra Wilding is BmoreMedia's former development news editor and a former Baltimore City English teacher. She is currently the editor of Community Development Digest. 

All photographs by STEVE RUARK.

Click photos to read captions.
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