You know how it feels to read someone else's journal without permission. To be purview to someone's thoughts that were never meant to be said out loud. To intercept a personal message that wasn't intended for you.
In one word: Irresistible.
You may feel as though you were intruding on someone else's business while previewing Postcards from the Trenches: Germans and Americans Visualize the Great War, an exhibition on view at the Printing Museum. That's because the show, which was originally set to close on Valentine's Day but has now been extended through Saturday, includes a collection of some 75 postcards hand painted between 1915 and 1916 by Otto Schubert and mailed to the love of his life.
Postcards from the Trenches commemorates the 100th anniversary of World War I.
At the closing reception scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday, Postcards from the Trenches co-curator Irene Guenther, history professor in the Honors College at the University of Houston, will offer an in-depth tour of the exhibition, alongside a performance by Houston Saengerbund, a local music organization founded in 1883 that celebrates German culture through song.
"The reason why some of the postcards are so haunting but also contained is that he knew he would be censored."
As it was the custom during World War I, many soldiers received blank 6-by-4-inch field postcards to write home to their loved ones. Schubert, a young German soldier who was born in Munich in 1892, decided to record his experiences through exquisitely detailed paintings and drawings, accompanied by a sentence or two message to his inamorata Irma Muller.
The images portray the realities of life in the trenches. One almost monochromatic postcard executed in blacks and grays depicts a somber milieu dotted with crosses and graves. Another one bursts with flames surrounding a troupe of soldiers mid battle. Yet some are more lighthearted, showing men at leisure. Most are accompanied by text, however much more muted in tenor than the images.
"The reason why some of the postcards are so haunting but also contained is that he knew he would be censored, and he also didn't want to worry his sweetheart," Guenther tells CultureMap in a video interview (above). "It's as though he doesn't want to open up too much."
What's even more remarkable is the story of how these postcards survived in nearly mint condition.
"(The postcards) survived World War I and the bombing of Dresden in World War II," Gunther explains. "In the 1930s, the Nazis defamed him, which meant he couldn't paint or exhibit."
In the 1940s, Schubert's studio was completely destroyed. His wife, Irma, died. His children disappeared. These gems found safe passage to the U.S. through Gunther's grandfather, Alfred Günther, and her father, Peter Guenther, who was one of the founding faculty for the University of Houston's School of Art. When Irene Gunther's parents died in 2005, she discovered the postcards tucked away in a shelf inside a brown envelope.
The exhibit also includes works by American artists in response to the war, artifacts with a Houston connection plus government propaganda that frame the zeitgeist of these turbulent times.
Postcards from the Trenches: Germans and Americans Visualize the Great War is on view at The Printing Museum though Feb. 21.