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Historic Political Cartoon Collection on Display in Tampa

Aug 21, 2012

Dr. Charles Mahan, Professor and Dean Emeritus for the USF College of Public Health, has been collecting cartoons and cartoon-related memorabilia for sixty years.

In fact, he's already donated over thirty boxes of materials, including original Disney animation, to the USF Library's Special and Digital Collections. But in addition to Mickey Mouse, Mahan also loves political cartoons, collecting over eight thousand of them. 

“A good one tells you at a glance, sort of catches your imagination," said Mahan. "Maybe you say, ‘boy, that’s right on’ or maybe it makes you mad, but it makes you react.”

Now, with the continued help of the USF Library, a small portion of his vast portfolio is on display at the Tampa Museum of Art.

Cartoon historian Larry Bush had the task of selecting the 59 pieces featured in the exhibit, Art of the Poison Pens: A Century of American Political Cartoons.

“Pulitzer Prize winners, well-drawn cartoons, just, you know, ones that really grab you historically.”

The selection features cartoons from 1871 to present day. One highlight is an original copy of the Chicago Sun Times from November 22, 1963. On the back page of the newspaper is cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s famed sketch of the weeping Abraham Lincoln statue, drawn in response to President Kennedy’s assassination.

"It’s powerful to see such an icon of history, journalistic history, right here," Bush said, standing next to a display case in the Museum.

He had no idea that Mahan had such a piece in his collection until he saw the yellowed newspaper sitting in Mahan's house.

"I said ‘Charlie, you got this one!’ He said, ‘yeah, I kept it from when I was a kid,’ he hadn’t told me that he did that!”

With the Republican National Convention in Tampa this month, both Mahan and Bush said the timing for such a display was perfect. But Bush says the exhibit isn't targeted to supporters of one party--it's perfect for anyone who wants to see an art form that has angered, inspired and informed people for hundreds of years.

"Hopefully people will see the passion of history," Bush said. "They'll see how passionately it was drawn by these artists. That brings a new perspective of history for a lot of people who look at history as what you read in a history book, what your history instructors have drummed into your head. Then you come in here and you see the cartoons and it's different. You're seeing a passionate portrayal of a historic event."

The exhibit runs through September 16th at the Tampa Museum of Art.  Then, the collection will be available for individual viewing in the USF Library’s Special and Digital Collections, with plans to eventually digitize it for viewing online.