Travel Back In Time To Hollywood’s Golden Era Through Movie Posters At The Norton

Jul 11, 2019

If you love movie posters -- the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach is taking a trip back in time to Hollywood’s Golden Era.

Its newest exhibition, “Coming Soon: Film Posters from the Dwight M. Cleveland Collection” is all about movie art and includes more than 200 posters of westerns, sci-fi thrillers, dramas and other movies that date from the turn of the 20th century to the late 1980s. It’s the largest show of movie posters, with films like the "Godfather," "Singing in the Rain" and "Casablanca."  It opens Friday, July 12 and runs through the end of October. Guest curator of the exhibition Matthew Bird and owner of the pieces Dwight Cleveland joined Sundial.

This transcription has been edited lightly for clarity.

CLEVELAND: I've spent nearly half a century hunting these down all over the world. I buy them at flea markets, antique shows and off the Internet.

WLRN: What is the oldest one you have?

The oldest ones I have are all from the late 1800s.

Do you recall the first movie poster you ever got in your collection?

Yes, very vividly. It still burns brightly in my mind and that's sort of the fire that keeps me going. It was a "Wolf Song" lobby card, which is a 1929 film with Lupe Velez and Gary Cooper. It was owned by the art teacher at my high school who was a great collector and had things hanging up in the gallery and in his office. And I never really paid too much attention to them until one day he came back from a buying trip and he was leafing through this group of lobby cards he'd acquired. A whole bunch of us were sort of crowded around looking over his shoulder and this one from "Wolf Song" just reached out and grabbed me and said 'take me home.' It really sparked my love of the graphic art in these posters.

The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938 United States ReleaseCredit Norton Museum of ArtEdit | Remove

What is the magic of the movie poster?

During the silent era  and into the 30s, the poster was really the only way to communicate and sell the film. There was no television, but the poster was really the thing that you walked by on the street. It was leaning up against a cash register or posted  from the theater. And that's what motivated you to go into the theater and see the film.

When you were both working on choosing the posters for the show I want to know what those conversations were like. How do you decide which ones?

BIRD: It was a really fun/challenging/impossible situation because of  working backwards from what could fit in the room. We established a sort of artificial target of about 150 posters. Part of it was logistics and wall space, but then another layer to the filter was, what is the story of the show? What's the history of movies? And Dwight's collection would illustrate that most clearly. But then at the end when Dwight looked at our choices there were some head-scratching moments.

CLEVELAND: I am a lover of these posters and the films. I didn't want this to be an exhibition on film posters. I wanted it to be an exhibition on American culture as seen through the graphic arts-- telling this story through the posters from my collection.

The Norton Museum is at 1450 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach.