The purpose of this exhibition is to pay tribute to the creative imagination of one of America's most famous printing firms, namely Cincinnati-based Strobridge Lithographing Company.
Founded in 1847 by Elijah C. Middleton as a bookstore and stationary, the establishment focused on steel and copperplate engraving. By 1854, lithographer W.R. Wallace and local bookseller Hines Strobridge joined the business and a partnership began. The business quickly embraced the production of all kinds of lithography. After Wallace and Middleton left the partnership in the 1860s, Strobridge moved the factory into a modern building on Canal Street, in Over-the-Rhine. Artists such as Harry Ogden, Matt Morgan, and Paul Jones joined the firm, which became world famous for its colorful, detailed, high quality designs. By the turn of the century, the Strobridge Lithographing Company had the reputation for being a leader in outdoor advertisement for amusement enterprises and was the largest producer of circus, theater, and magic posters in North America.
During the Great Depression, demand for circus and theater posters declined and the firm accommodated to the changes in the amusement world by turning to movie posters, becoming a pioneer in the field.
In 1961, Strobridge was acquired by H.S. Crocker printing company, which closed a decade later. Today, these vividly colored images bear witness to the exceptional artistry and printing knowledge of the firm's creators and craftsmen.
This exhibit wishes to present in their variety the creations produced by the firm from the 1850's until about the end of World War I. From portraits, maps, views, and sheet music to commercial catalogs and colored history charts, Strobridge embraced all kinds of lithography. This exhibition emphasizes the spectacular circus and theater posters, which made the reputation and fortune of the company. They help define a period of American social and visual history and bear vibrant witness to a time when this form of popular art was moving to the center of outdoor commercial advertising.
Invented at the end of the 18th century by the Bavarian playwright Aloys Senefelder, lithography is "a method of printing from a design drawn directly onto a slab of stone. A sheet of paper is placed on the stone, they are passed through a press, and an exact replica of the drawing is transferred to the paper" (The Oxford Dictionary of Art, 2004). In the nineteenth century, lithography played an important role in the commercial printing industry, and represented a fundamental element in the development of posters. Color lithographs, which Strobridge started producing at least by the beginning of the 1860s, were created by preparing a separate stone for each of the colors in the design. Their posters used six to eight different colors.