Bowdoin Originals: 1960s Civil Rights Broadsides Come to Gentle

The two broadsides

Wood prints by William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) and Frederick Douglass (1817–1895), by Thomas Cornell, 1964. Handset and printed by Stuart Denenberg ’64 and John Welwood ’64.

They were printed on long, thin broadsides, which are single-sided sheets of paper that were used in the past for public proclamations. Beneath the men’s faces were some of their most passionate words railing against the abomination of slavery.

What caught Anderson’s eye in particular were the etched lines that made up the faces of the two men. Powerful yet graceful, these were carved into blocks of wood by Thomas Cornell, a professor of art at Bowdoin from 1962 until his death in 2012.

The broadsides, according to the small print at the bottom, were hand-set and printed in July 1964 by two Cornell students: Stuart Denenberg ’64 and John Welwood ’64.

Anderson, a government student who attended Harvard Law School and became a lawyer, recently said that every time he looked at the artwork over the years he thought he’d like to donate it to Bowdoin one day. He had previously contributed books and essays to Bowdoin, including several volumes from the British Register of Parliament for the War of Independence years to supplement the copies James Bowdoin had given the college.

Stowe also hosted John Andrew Jackson, a fugitive South Carolina slave, in the house. Now owned by Bowdoin College, the building is a National Historic Landmark and a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site.

In addition, a third broadside from civil rights leader Bayard Rustin reappeared at the donation of the Garrison and Douglass prints. Also made by Cornell and his students, Rustin’s piece, which is larger than the other two, is hung between Garrison and Douglass and forms “a civil rights triptych of three major civil rights heroes,” Chakkalakal said.

Denenberg, who runs an art gallery in West Hollywood, credits Cornell for not only introducing him to the arts, but also opening his eyes to the urgency of social justice. “I joined Bowdoin College in 1960 as a young freshman and immediately met the most charismatic person in the college, Thomas Cornell,” he recalled on a recent video call. “At that time I was not at all interested in an artistic career.”

“John and I were interested in the political possibilities and in making a physical statement in the opportunistic language of the broadsides,” said Denenberg. “We were kids in the 1960s.” (Welwood, a pioneer in east-west Psychology, died 2019.)

They printed between 150 and 200 copies of each portrait. “We wanted these things to circulate,” said Denenberg. “It was the time of the Vietnam War and there was this awareness of American militarism and systemic racism. We wanted to change the world.”

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