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Posting Peace: Peace Corps Posters 1961–2022

This exhibition by ArtReach Gallery and the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience does more than trace marketing materials for the agency. In images and words — including works by renowned artists Peter Max and Shepard Fairey — it explores how we think about and talk about the idea of peace itself. And how we make it.

Introduction by W. Sheldon Hurst

Curator, ArtReach Gallery

 

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps in 2011, Shepard Fairey created a poster that was widely distributed across the United States. The focus of the two figures is on the fruit of the earth being carefully lifted from the fields below; plants frame this central image. The plant in the woman’s hands is not simply a seedling; it doubles as the sun, radiating both light and life. A closer look reveals, at the center of the sun/plant, a peace sign, inviting consideration of the grounding relationships that bring about the rooting and leafing essential to the work of feeding others as well as ourselves. This idea of multifaceted relationships has been the work of Peace Corps since its creation in 1961.

My wife, Karen Hurst (Tunisia 1966–68), was gifted this poster in 2015 shortly after we moved to Portland, Oregon. Remembering a Peter Max Peace Corps poster from the 1960s, I started to be curious about the posters adopted by the Peace Corps, and about their various purposes.

Posting Peace became the title of this exhibition, which grew out of connections and conversations with returned Volunteers in the Portland area. It was inspired by an aphorism of the late Oregon poet William Stafford, whose interest and commitment to peacemaking is well-known: “We put in a cottonwood post. It rooted and leafed.” The amazing image of the post rooting and leafing to new life captures the spirit of Peace Corps. That Volunteers are “posted” to serve in numerous places in the world is another understanding of the title. The title was also inspired by another Stafford aphorism: “Go in peace — but go.” Here are a few of the posters included in the exhibit.

This feature story in WorldView magazine also features stories behind some posters, the impact they had at the time,  how they resonate decades later — and how they might be different if made today. Read contributions from:

Marieme Foote (Benin 2018–20) | Ken Hill (Turkey 1965–67), as well as agency Chief of Staff and Country Director for Macedonia, the Russian Far East, and Bulgaria | Anne Baker (Fiji 1985–87) | Janet Matts (Kenya 1977–79) | Wylie and Janet Greig (India 1966–68) | Joel Rubin (Costa Rica 1994–96) | Jon Keeton (Korea 1965–67), as well as agency director of international research and development, Regional Director for North Africa, Near East, Asia, and Pacific, and Country Director for Korea

 


 

 

“Peace Corps: A Promise…An Accomplishment…A Hope…1961–1981”

1981 poster, 17″ x 22″. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by Usama Khalidi (Oman 1981–83)

 

 

“Think local. Act global.”

2003 poster 30″ x 22″. On loan from Stevenson Center for Economic and Community Development at Illinois State University

 

 

“Next to food, what the world needs most is someone who knows how to grow it.”

July 1972 poster, 11″ x 8 ½”. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by Nancy Gallant (Malaysia 1969–71)

 

 

“When you get back you can say, ‘I’d do it again’ in Swahili. Life is calling. How far will you go?”

2003 poster, 8 ¾” x 21 ¾”. On loan from Stevenson Center for Economic and Community Development at Illinois State University

 

 

 “Here’s your wake up call.”

2003 poster, 30″ x 22″. On loan from Stevenson Center for Economic and Community Development at Illinois State University

 

 

“The marketplace is global. You should be too.”

Undated poster 14″ x 8 ¾”. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by Stevenson Center for Economic and Community Development at Illinois State University

 

The marketplace is global. You should be too. Opening up my perspective to a world beyond just the borders I live within or the countries I claim has helped me realize just how small I am, and just how beautiful the experience is to humble yourself to the world. The Peace Corps has been a step for me in bridging these connections and expanding my conception of a global world beyond just the capitals of major countries, but into the heart of people from all walks of life.

 —Marieme Foote (Benin 2018–20) is a Donald M. Payne International Development Fellow at USAID and part of the advocacy team at NPCA.

 

 

 

“The corner office can wait. Some corners of the world can’t. Life is calling. How far will you go?”

2003 poster, 30″ x 22″. On loan from Stevenson Center for Economic and Community Development at Illinois State University

 

“Peace Corps.” 1971 design by Peter Max

Reproduction poster 11″ x 16″ printed by Barnes Press, New York. Original 21″ x 26″. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience

Recruiting on college campuses, I recall we had three versions of the posters with this Peter Max design. One was on poster paper with space at the bottom to note Peace Corps–related meetings, the location of the PC recruiting booth, classes that we were to speak to, etc. These disappeared almost as soon as we put them up, because the Peter Max painting was golden! A larger size simply advertised Peace Corps. It had a tendency to end up quickly in dorm rooms. Then there was the huge version, about four feet by six feet. These we only used in sealed displays or positioning that eluded pilfer. They were iconic, indeed.

Ken Hill (Turkey 1965–67) served as Country Director for Macedonia (1966–67), the Russian Far East (1994–96), and Bulgaria (1996–99). He also served with Peace Corps HQ (1968–74), as chief of staff for the agency (2001), and as NPCA Board chair.

 

 

 

“Help Peace the World Together: Peace Corps.” 1972 anonymous design

Poster printed e-file, 15″ x 11 1/2″. Peace Corps Partnership Program. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by National Archive and Records Administration

 

 

“You.” 2011 Peace Corps: 50th Anniversary 1961–2011. Designed by Gary Jameson

Screenprint 161/250, 18″ x 12″. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by Anne Baker (Fiji 1985–87)

 

The YOU poster was one of three that RPCV Gary Jameson (Turkey 1965–67) designed for Peace Corps recruitment in the 1960s, and was one selected to commemorate Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary in 2011. This signed, limited edition print shows the evolution in five steps of the peace sign into the word YOU. That’s true if you start at the top. I take a different perspective, moving up the poster instead of down: The letters in the word YOU come together in just the right way to form the peace sign. That’s what we must do — working individually and collectively — to lift up our communities and our world to be at peace. This poster reminds us that YOU are the hope for that peaceful world.

This poster was designed to encourage Americans to join Peace Corps. But I think it sends just as powerful a message to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, asking: What can YOU do to continue to build a more peaceful and prosperous world?

Anne Baker (Fiji 1985–87) worked with National Peace Corps Association for a quarter century, most recently as vice president. 

 

 

 

“Peace Corps of the United States of America 1961–1991.” 1991 30th Anniversary Map

Office of Recruitment Resources and Marketing poster, 27″ x 36″. Design: Chris Fauver of Greenfield/Belsar Ltd. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by Janet Matts (Kenya 1977–79)

 

I was lucky to be one of three Volunteers asked to start the first school for children with special needs in Westlands, near Nairobi, Kenya. That is my place on the map — Treeside Special School, funded by Mr. Menya, a Kenyan businessman whose disabled daughter was turned away from the government schools. However, Harambee (“Let’s all pull together,” in Swahili) served as a model for creating more schools throughout Kenya. A small Anglican church opened its doors to be used during the week as the school. Harambee also provided the impetus for many children with disabilities in Kenya, previously hidden at home, to attend school.

As we developed curriculum and planned daily programs, we identified individual disabilities — such as speech impediments — and prescribed special support. I quickly realized that the older children needed life skills — such as routine cooking and finding their way around the community. I brought students to my home twice weekly, taught them how to measure ingredients, read community signs, count bus fares, or read books. They enjoyed many Kenyan animal stories; our experiential approach to reading was based on Swahili writing, which — unlike English — uses easily pronounced phonetic words when written.

Treeside School became a model in Kenya. We trained a local teacher assistant to develop methods for teachers whose classroom experiences were limited. I will always appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution to Special Education in Kenya. This country taught me to value the Harambee spirit, and it has shaped my life ever since. So if I were to make this map myself, instead of a quote at the top from English historian Arnold Toynbee, it would be “Harambee. Let’s all pull together.”

Janet Matts (Kenya 1977–79)

 

 

 

“Peace Corps.” March 1, 2011. Designed by Shepard Fairey. 50th Anniversary Commemorative Print

Screen print on French Cream Speckletone paper, 2/450, 24″ x 18″. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by Wylie and Janet Greig (India 1966–68)

 

In 2010, the NPCA Board and the agency were beginning to plan for ways to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. Janet had joined the NPCA Board and was beginning the work of raising funds to support proposals for celebrating this milestone in its history.

Out of the blue, we received a call from Peace Corps headquarters asking if we would visit with one of the Director’s representatives, who was to be in California the following week. She arrived with a specific ask in mind: Would we be willing to fund a commemorative poster which was being commissioned by the artist Shepard Fairey? We knew of Fairey’s work — both as a commercial artist and the creator of Barack Obama’s iconic poster for his recent presidential campaign.

We were intrigued by the image — a U.S. Volunteer kneeling in concert with a young man. They are observing a plant sprouting in her hands — was it simply a reference to agricultural Volunteers? Or could it represent progress for them both? Or hope? Or mutual coming together in support of something bigger than either
of them? Learning from one another?

We think all of these. Our lives were greatly changed and enriched by our time as Peace Corps Volunteers in India working alongside Indian partners.

Wylie and Janet Greig (India 1966–68)

 

 

 

“How much can you give? How much can you take? Find out in the Peace Corps.”

c.1965 poster, 11″ x 10 1/2″. Advertising Council. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by Ethel Fleming (Micronesia 1966–68)

 

 

“The Peace Corps sent me to work with farmers in Costa Rica…”

1995 photograph by Donna Day, Kellet Group & Jamie Sheehan, 11″ x 17″. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by Doug Newlin (El Salvador 1965–67, Papua New Guinea 2000) and Sheila Newlin (Papua New Guinea 2000)

Costa Rica is a small, peaceful country in the heart of Central America, where the citizens could teach the world more about peace than we ever could for them. This country — rich in biodiversity, with a full quarter of its land protected as national parks — has no military. Instead of spending countless colones to defend its borders with oversized militaries like many of its neighbors, it spends its funds on public health, education, and social services. The result? A life expectancy of 80 years, higher than the United States. Yet as we know, peace is rooted in partnership. As a Peace Corps Volunteer serving there in the mid-1990s, I found that partnership is exactly what Costa Ricans wanted. It was their strong sense of national pride, combined with the confidence to demand to be treated as equals that made — and makes — Costa Rica a dynamic partner for the United States. And for me, Costa Rica and its people are family, equals, partners, and compadres in the struggle to make the world a safer, more environmentally sustainable, and peaceful place for us all.

Joel Rubin (Costa Rica 1994–96) served in the Obama-Biden Administration as the deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs and recently as NPCA’s vice president for global policy and public affairs.

 

 

 

“Peace Corps Poland, Friends of Poland, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2001.”

Designed by Janusz Tyszluèwicz. Poster, 27″ x 19″. Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. Donated by John Keeton (Thailand 1965–67, Peace Corps staff 1970–76, 1984–92)

 

The message of the Peace Corps Poland poster — partnership — is even more relevant now than when it was given to me by a Ukrainian American Volunteer two decades ago. He was so pleased that he could serve in his family’s homeland. When I had the honor to negotiate the country agreement I never dreamed how long Volunteers would serve there.

Jon Keeton (Korea 1965–67) served as Country Director for Korea (1973–76) and Regional Director for North Africa, Near East, Asia, and Pacific (1984–89), and as Peace Corps’ director of international research and development.

 


This feature appears in the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView.

SEE MORE from this exhibit at: https://museumofthepeacecorpsexperience.org