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Iconic World War II posters donated to Iowa Veterans Home

CONTRIBUTED GRAPHIC — The Four Freedoms, created by Normal Rockwell, were later sold as lithograph posters for the war effort. It is rare to have all four posters still together nearly 80 years after they were issued.

When Mary Middelkoop of Marshalltown was sorting through her mother’s belongings in 2007, she came upon boxes filled with family mementos and World War II memorabilia.

“When my mother went into a nursing home in 2007, I put most of her things in my basement,” MiddelKoop said. “My mother was a saver — the letters she and my dad had written to each other and his flight logs. Then down in the bottom of the box were these posters. I recognized them right away — the Four Freedoms created by Norman Rockwell.”

Rockwell drew inspiration from President Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union speech delivered to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings, which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor anywhere in the world.”

Initially, the Office of War Information wasn’t interested in turning Rockwell’s sketches into patriotic posters to raise money for the war effort. Instead, images of his oil paintings were published in four consecutive issues of the Saturday Evening Post, beginning on Feb. 20, 1943, accompanied by essays by Booth Tarkington, Will Durant, Carlos Bulosan and Stephen Vincent Benet.

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ — Mary Middelkoop of Marshalltown and her brother Al Mason of Wisconsin donated the Four Freedoms posters to the Iowa Veterans Home. The posters belonged to their mother Katherine Pursel Mason, who got them from the walls of the Marshalltown recruitment office.

“The paintings were a phenomenal success, with the Post receiving 25,000 reprint requests. A few months later, the government changed its tune, and in May 1943, the Post and the U.S. Treasury Department launched a joint fundraising campaign, sending the paintings on a 16-city national tour. More than one million people attended the exhibition that raised an astounding $132 million,” the Post wrote.

Lithograph prints were made available to purchase by the general public.

MiddelKoop’s father Captain Clair M. (Bud) Mason was a P-51 fighter pilot in World War II. Her mother Katherine Pursel Mason, followed the war effort closely.

“The posters had been on the wall in Marshalltown’s recruitment office,” Middelkoop said. “After the war ended in 1945, my mother was given permission to remove them from the walls and keep them.”

For decades, the posters were folded and kept in storage. In 2011, a year after her mother’s death, Middelkoop tuned into an episode of “Antiques Roadshow” that featured the posters.

“They do have some monetary value, but the main thing was the appraiser gave the whole story of how they came to be. They made lots at the time, but it’s rare to have all four together,” she said. “So I decided I wanted to donate them so they could be seen by the public and decided since they’re Marshalltown posters, and my parents were from Marshalltown, they should go to the Iowa Veterans Home.”

MiddelKoop reached out to IVH Volunteer Services Coordinator Aimee Deimerly-Snyder about how to donate the posters to the facility. Deimerly-Snyder then got in touch with IVH Public Service Supervisor Stacey Duden. Duden consulted with the Iowa State Historical Society about how to preserve the posters. She entrusted Beth Burkemper of Midwest Frame and Gallery to do the honors. The special frames are made with archival glass to keep the aged paper preserved. Since fall 2018, the four posters have been hanging in the IVH lounge.

The posters were issued in three sizes — these are the largest, at approximately 40 inches by 60 inches.

“I just think it’s fun. I saw them when I was little, stored in boxes. They were never displayed,” MiddelKoop’s brother Al Mason said.

Duden said money from a memorial fund covered the cost of the special framing.

“We made sure to leave the creases and tears in the posters so the integrity would be maintained,” Duden said.

IVH has 39 veterans of World War II residing at its facility.

“The posters are fantastic and the residents enjoy this room tremendously. It was very plain before, and now the room has this special touch that really is a nod to our residents and the American people,” Deimerly-Snyder said.