Library’s ‘Buy Local’ art show to close

By Jessica Cabe

Turn on your television. Open a magazine. Look at the bottom of these pages.

Advertisements are everywhere.

They have become such an integral part of life that we see them without noticing. They play a huge role in commerce, and local businesses in Northern Illinois rely heavily upon advertising to stay afloat in this economy.

Today is the last day to see “Buy Local: The Evolution of Advertising in Northern Illinois Commerce,” an exhibit in the Founders Memorial Library. It has been on display since the beginning of October.

The Regional History Center created the exhibit in association with American Archives Month. October is a time to appreciate history through the preservation of artifacts and documents. The staff of the Regional History Center brainstormed to find a way to raise awareness about the importance of Northern Illinois’s history, said Anne-Marie Oelschlager, archives assistant for the Regional History Center.

“We’ve come across advertisement articles in our archives and thought it would be something neat to do,” she said.

“Buy Local” mixes art, history, marketing, communications, technology, sociology and economics to tell the story of Northern

Illinois commerce.

The exhibit is arranged into four display cases, each representing a different time period from the 1800s to the 1990s.

The first case, entitled “1800s-1925: Verbose Turns Art Nouveau,” is filled with wordy ads for businesses in Rockford, DeKalb and other cities. A brief description of the time period explains that printing images was expensive and difficult until the early 20th century, so businesses had to rely on detailed product descriptions to get their point across.

The second case is called “1926-1945: Decorative Arts and Challenging Times.” This period is defined by a shift to Art Deco, an artistic era which uses bright colors and geometric arrangements to catch the viewer’s attention. In this era, World War II played a large role in advertising; women in the workforce were making most of the financial decisions for the first time, so ads were geared toward the strong, independent woman.

The third case, “1946-1960: Postwar American Modernism,” shows ads during a time when consumerism was on the rise. American Modernism is a style which uses economic thinking and clean art. The design is less structured than Art Deco. For the first time, white space is used to grab attention rather than a block of text or a brightly colored image. Ad content shifted to family values due in large part to the culture of the 1950s.

The last case of the exhibit is titled “1967-1990s: Pop, Post Modernism, and the Computer Age.” During this time, text was hardly significant at all aside from a catchy slogan. Technology became a huge focus from the 1980s and onward

All of the pieces of “Buy Local” were gathered by the staff members of the Regional History Center.

“We just researched our inventories and looked at different companies we had collections on,” Oelschlager said.

Being able to look at an advertisement from 100 years ago is pretty cool, but seeing one from your home town brings a sense of pride in where you came from. The pieces in the exhibit tell the story of independent, local business men and women who accomplished something noteworthy in Illinois.

“Nowadays, I think that everyone is just bombarded with ads,” Oelschlager said. “It’s interesting to see how companies have evolved to get the interest of the general public.”