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Poster promoting black student voter registration. WHS Image ID 58520
Poster Promoting Black Student Voter Registration, Madison, Wisconsin. WHI 58520

Madison People's Poster and Propaganda Collection

From the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, Madison, Wisconsin, was a hub of dynamic social, political and cultural change. The onset of countercultural ideologies, the Vietnam War, gay liberation and women's rights were among the issues that permeated the social landscape of the city as people formed groups, held meetings, distributed propaganda and organized demonstrations. The posters of the era, which J. Wesley Miller collected from kiosks and bulletin boards around Madison, reflected all of these events and changes.

An Eccentric Collector

Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on October 3, 1941, J. Wesley Miller III endured a rough childhood that led to an eccentric adulthood. Intelligent but unorthodox, Miller would often pit members of the press against each other, creating animosities that he personally enjoyed. Despite his oddities, though, those who knew him spoke of his serious academic attitude, which his professional status as an accredited art lawyer reflected.

Miller received his bachelor's degree from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and did graduate work at Harvard and the University of Wisconsin. In 1981 he graduated from the College of Western New England Law School, passing the Massachusetts Bar the same year, specializing in art law. He actively collected and cataloged "street literature," fliers and posters that reflected aspects of contemporary and social history. Miller was reported dead in September 2005, however the exact date and cause of death are unknown.

About the Collection

Miller gathered thousands of posters and fliers during the years 1968 to 1972 and donated the entire collection to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1973. The gallery consists of approximately 290 posters, primarily from locations in the Madison area. They include everything from hand-drawn, black-and-white images to colorful prints, advertising a range of re-election campaigns, rock concerts, peace protests and viewpoints. A 1971 poster, for example, promoting the Survival Revival Women's Conference features an American flag-patterned castle in flames with a parade of women marching away under the words, "The Women are Coming." Another features a retouched portrait of then-Vice President Spiro Agnew dressed as a hippie, complete with fringed shirt, beaded necklace and peace sign earrings, while others promote appearances by musicians REO Speedwagon and Frank Zappa. Miller described his collection best when he said, "The collection reflects the totality of student life and was being built as history unfolded."

View the Gallery

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