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Newport News Now is a daily e-newsletter that launched in March 2016. Articles that ran in our newsletter between March 2016 and March 2018 are available on these pages. Newsletters produced beginning in April 2018 can be viewed on our new daily newsletter page.

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Sep 26

100 Years: Newport News Remembers the Great War

Posted on September 26, 2017 at 9:35 AM by Communications Department

Posters by artist Walter Whitehead on display at Virginia War Museum

The Virginia War Museum is sharing a different point of view of World War I with the “VICTORY” poster exhibit. World War I required total involvement by Americans to win.  In an era prior to email and television, mass communication was in the form of newspapers, printed advertisements and the new medium of radio.  In 1917, the U.S. government formed the Division of Pictorial Publicity to produce posters to inform the public.  Headed by renowned illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (creator of the iconic Uncle Sam “I Want You” image), the bureau reached out to the country’s best artists and encouraged them to volunteer their creativity to the war effort. Victory

One artist who accepted the challenge was Walter Whitehead (1874-1956), who had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and under famed illustrator Howard Pyle.  Proficient at painting and in B&W illustration, he produced portraits, drawings and covers for magazines at firms in New York City, New Jersey and Chicago.  Whitehead subsequently taught at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.  His contributions to the nation’s propaganda effort included two striking posters of rugged doughboys engaged against the German enemy: “And They Thought We Couldn’t Fight” and “Come On! Buy more Liberty Bonds.”  These color lithographs are now much admired and command high prices by collectors.

However, locally his best known work is one he first produced for a 1918 Fatima Tobacco ad – the angelic silhouette of a soldier with raised rifle, his helmet creating a halo around his head.  The poignant image was adapted for war use with the simple caption “VICTORY.”  The original oil on canvas has long been exhibited at the Virginia War Museum as part of its propaganda poster gallery.  The collection also includes Whitehead’s canvas for “Come On!”

How did the museum come to possess these rare pieces?  In later years, Whitehead left big city life for retirement in rural Dare, Virginia.  When he died in 1956 at age 82, he was buried at Providence Methodist Church in Grafton.  The museum director of the time, Major George B. Collings, was a foresighted collector, who realized that material pertaining to the world wars needed to be obtained while readily available.  Through his influence, the canvases were acquired for the museum’s holdings. Today, “VICTORY” is one of the museum’s most prized artifacts.  For more information on the Virginia War Museum, visit