What's Going Around: Lou Stovall and the Community Poster, 1967–1976
November 14, 2020 - April 11, 2021
Community posters are graphic broadsides of grassroots origin. They usually address issues of public concern with a do-it-yourself aesthetic and distribution strategy. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Washington, D.C.’s community posters were simultaneously vehicles for social, political, and cultural organizations, as well as objects of art. They could be found on school bulletin boards and city buses, at clubs and outdoor concert venues, and on the dorm room walls of university students.
Despite the ephemeral nature of broadsides and the conservative collecting practices of museums, the significance of the community poster phenomenon convinced Smithsonian curators to procure excellent early examples as the movement unfolded. Lou Stovall’s poster Sun Ra became one of the first community posters to enter the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum) when the museum acquired it in 1969.
Lou Stovall was born in Athens, Georgia in 1937. He and his workshops became the heart of community poster printmaking in Washington during the long 1960s. He worked alongside Columbus-born artist Di Bagley Stovall, and his downtown printmaking studios attracted artists, activists, musicians, and interested visitors daily. His collaborations spanned the artistic, the musical, and the political, creating a broad visual statement for a city—and country—undergoing changes on a massive scale. Stovall is well known as a master printmaker in the medium of silkscreen, and museums around the globe, such as the Yale University Art Gallery and the British Museum, have collected his work. He has collaborated with artists of international acclaim such as Jacob Lawrence, Sam Gilliam, and David Driskell, and institutions of great prominence— including the National Gallery of Art and the Peace Corps—have commissioned his distinctive works.
What’s Going Around traces the early development of a master printmaker and his process. It also trains the spotlight on a turbulent era of U.S. history not unlike the contemporary moment. This selection of early silkscreen posters provides insight into how one artist engaged art and history in service to the community, offering an exemplary—and inspiring—model for our own tumultuous times.
—Will Stovall, guest curator