Howard Sparber, now 92 years old, began taking sketching classes at age 16 while also attending Brooklyn College. Throughout his long career as an artist, he created a wide variety of sculptures, watercolors, mixed-media pieces, and perhaps most famously, cartoons.Some of his work will be on display in an exhibition entitled “Attitude Graphics: The Work of Howard Sparber” Thursday through Oct. 4 at Washington State University’s Gallery II in the Fine Arts Center.
One of Sparber’s most well-known and influential works was his cartoon drawings for the pamphlet “The Myth that Threatens America,” said Marianne Kinkel, an associate art history professor at WSU. Kinkel will also be presenting a lecture on the exhibition at 5 p.m. Thursday.
According to Kinkel, the pamphlet was commissioned by the Writers’ War Board, lead by Rex Stout. The Writers’ War Board was one of the primary U.S. propaganda organizations during World War II.
Kinkel said the board had conducted a survey in which they narrowed in on the racial prejudices present in American cartoons.
“All of the good virtues — hard work, truthfulness — were always associated with white characters,” Kinkel said. “Anyone who was non-white was literally kind of reduced to a stereotype, either visually or in the text.”
Stout, who commissioned the pamphlet, believed it was time for artists and writers to look at how their work was “contributing and promoting racial stereotypes,” Kinkel said.
Even after he had completed his work for the pamphlet, Sparber’s art still reflected his and Stout’s shared beliefs, she said.
“(Sparber’s) images are very unusual,” Kinkel said. His work is “turning inwards into art and writings that are being produced trying to stop racial bigotry and religious intolerance through the (use) of many of these images.”
Sparber also is well known for his work with writer Ray Abrashkin. with whom he created a series of cartoons called “Timmy,” Kinkel said.
“They have a lot to do with transforming American attitudes towards children and parenting,” Kinkel said of the cartoons.
Sparber and Abrashkin were influenced by child psychologists Benjamin Spock and Barbara Bieber, and the new ideas the psychologists had about child-rearing.
“Above all, (the ideas) have to do with approaching childhood not through the lens that a child is a miniature adult, but that a child is an individual and has to be respected as an individual,” Kinkel said.
Along with “The Myth that Threatens America” and the cartoons that Kinkel said “participate in the reconfiguration of the child,” Sparber produced other kinds of artwork as well as cartoons related to education all the way up until 2000.
His educational cartoons focused on the subjects of sexual harassment and equality in the workplace among others, Kinkel said.
“He has been consistently interested in producing work that doesn’t have to do with his self-expression,” Kinkel said of Sparber. Instead, he puts together artwork that causes the viewer to actively examine, reflect, and reconsider his or her social attitudes, she said.
Although Sparber is still alive, he and his wife agreed attending the opening of the exhibition might be a bit much for them. However, Sparber’s son will be in attendance, Kinkel said.
WSU is the first stop for “Attitude Graphics: The Work of Howard Sparber” and Kinkel said that as of now there are no solid plans for where it might go next. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Attitude Graphics: The Work of Howard Sparber”
WHEN: Lecture on Sparber 5 p.m. Aug. 23; opening reception 6 p.m.; exhibit runs through Oct. 4
WHERE: Washington State University’s Gallery II
By Sarah DeVleming for inland360.com