MICA Acquires Historic Globe Poster Collection

Globe Poster Printing Corporation, historically one of the nation’s largest showcard printers, has been telling the story of American music and entertainment through bright and iconic posters since 1929. Globe began by printing posters for vaudeville acts, movie theaters, drag races, burlesque houses, and carnivals and became known for its work with R&B, soul, and jazz performers—including James Brown, B.B. King, Otis Redding, Ike and Tina Turner, Billie Holiday, and Solomon Burke—as well as gospel, rock, hip hop, funk, and go-go acts.

When Globe Poster closed its doors in late 2010, owners and brothers Bob and Frank Cicero hoped to keep the collection in Baltimore. Welcoming the opportunity to maintain a local legend’s collection and an important piece of entertainment history, MICA acquired more than 75 percent of the Globe collection of wood type, images, and illustration cuts employed for letterpress and screen printing. The acquisition strengthens a relationship developed with Globe over recent years through letterpress class visits, a graduate student thesis, and other student projects.

Bob and Frank worked with their father, Joseph Sr., and brother, Joe, since they acquired the shop from its previous owner, Norman Shapiro, in 1975. “My father would be pleased Globe is staying here,” Bob said. “It’s part of this city’s heritage and shows Baltimore’s contributions to music and entertainment.”

Big, bold, fat type, DayGlo colors, and distinctive lettering were hallmarks of the Globe style. The company’s unrivaled archive includes letterpress wood type, printing cuts and images, sketches and mockups, and original posters. Globe’s sturdy wood and metal type and cuts have survived decades of use, outliving the hands that created them and many of the musicians they popularized.

While preserving the legacy of these historic assets, MICA is also using items in the collection as academic and research resources. Through this acquisition, young artists and designers have the opportunity to learn first-hand traditional printing practices and the Globe style, even as they explore contemporary methods in the digital age. The materials are being utilized in classes and workshops by several graduate and undergraduate departments within the College, including printmaking, graphic design, and illustration.

“Globe is a national treasure and a unique part of Baltimore’s cultural history. MICA is thrilled to be able to bring this extraordinary collection onto its campus and allow its legacy to live on through the eyes and hands of the many artists, designers, and scholars who will benefit from its continuing to serve as an active, working press,” MICA Provost Ray Allen said. “The integration of Globe will distinguish MICA among its peers nationally and make Baltimore a special destination for those with a special interest in hand letterpress work.”

Allison Fisher, who graduated in the spring and now works as a letterpress printer at Gilah Press + Design, was a student leader in bringing the collection to MICA and is learning Globe’s style first-hand from Bob. Fisher explained, “I love letterpress, and I got involved in this project because it meant preserving the collection for future generations to see in its magnificent glory.”

Highlights of MICA’s acquisition include:

  • A significant portion of Globe’s substantial wood type collection, which includes more than 450 drawers of mostly Gothic type in an astonishing array of weights and sizes, enough to keep four compositors at a time setting type in Globe’s heyday.
  • Approximately 10,000 letterpress “cuts”—the illustrations, lettering, and photo images used to create posters—including many hand-carved blocks. The cuts show the range of Globe’s poster clients, from R&B and hip-hop acts, both famous and long-forgotten, to carnivals, circuses, drag races, and burlesque.
  • Original posters and lockups—the forms combining printing elements of type, images, and lettering—that demonstrate Globe’s craftsmanship and long history, from the era of the magician Blackstone to the early days of hip hop to Frank Zappa’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Large wood carvings, including the silhouette used by the FBI for target practice, over-sized fair and carnival cuts, and a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus billboard.

The acquisition received Baltimore magazine’s “Best Acquisition” award in the annual Best of Baltimore issue and made international news in the print world and beyond, including outlets such as NPR, Print magazine, and ReadyMade.

“Everyone is excited about the opportunities the collection brings. Amazing support has come from the printing community, other schools and universities, and MICA faculty and students from all disciplines,” said Gail Deery, chair of the Printmaking Department. “Integrating Globe into departments’ curricula strengthens many of MICA’s core priorities: innovation, research, and community engagement through visiting artists and collaborative projects.”

This fall, the newly established Globe Collection and Press team is busy cataloguing and assessing the collection, which arrived in 16 truckloads this summer, and analyzing how the College and broader community can best take advantage of this working press and archives.

Globe Collection and Press will integrate with MICA’s Dolphin Press & Print, which already encourages fine art collaborations between visiting artists and students. Globe Press will continue Dolphin’s tradition of passing master printing skills from artist to student. A portion of the Globe Collection and Press will be housed in the Printmaking Department’s Dolphin Building, where it can be used with the College’s collection of Vandercook printing presses, offering students, faculty, and visiting artists the opportunity to work with elements of the collection.

In the first Globe-related visiting artist program, students in the MFA in Illustration Practice program worked with MFA Director Whitney Sherman and Esther K. Smith of Purgatory Pie Press to proof imagery from the Globe collection to create new imagery for a mashup project and a flip-flop book.

Globe Collection and Press also hopes to continue collaborations similar to those that began before Globe Poster closed its doors. This past summer, Bob Cicero worked with letterpress faculty member Mary Mashburn and MICA students to create a poster for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival R&B tent and visual identity for Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors festival.

“It’s exciting to see the fresh and unpredictable ways students, faculty, and visiting artists interpret the Globe pieces after learning Globe’s style,” said Mashburn, whose letterpress classes helped spark student interest in Globe. Bob is teaching a letterpress course in the graphic design graduate program this semester at MICA, using the same wood type, tools, and images that once filled his print shop.

“It’s amazing to me the interest these students have in letterpress, in learning this craft and keeping it alive,” he said. “We are really pleased the collection will be kept together to be studied and used by a new generation.”