Michael sharing his poster archive, 2002, photo by Lincoln Cushing
I first met Michael Rossman in 1975, when I was a student at UC San Diego studying educational change. This was one of the many exciting social sparks ignited by the Free Speech Movement, and Michael was a participant, published author, and serious thinker about these issues. I was thrilled to find him warm and generous with his advice. I was hooked.
In 1982 I moved up to the Bay Area, and we reestablished our relationship. I was working at a political printshop, and as an activist designer I found myself collaborating with Michael on another subject involving dynamic social change - the imagery and iconography of our many movements. Michael had expanded his initial personal collection of posters into something deeper and wider - the “All Of Us Or None” Archive, second in national scale only to the Center for the Study of Political Graphics as a community-based political poster archive. We teamed up to photodocument posters, develop cataloging schema, arrange exhibits, write articles, and encourage greater respect for these ephemeral documents.
Michael brought a unique set of skills and sensibilities to this task. Yes, he had been part of an important slice of American political culture, but that was just the starting point. As a natural scientist, he had a determination and compulsion to classify. This taxonomania was extremely helpful in his arrangement of subject matter that largely fell between the cracks of conventional scholarship. He took copious, detailed notes - Da Vinci or Darwin would have been proud - and applied observational skills to the emerging macro and micro patterns of this growing ecology. He once remarked that his childhood hobby of collecting stamps taught him many of the skills he used in collecting posters, including the thrill of discovering variants, and that posters were like stamps, just larger.
He shamelessly requested copies from institutions and artists, pawed through trash cans and flea markets, trolled eBay, and ended up compiling a breathtaking collection of contemporary political poster culture. He gathered these documents for public scholarship, not for private gain, and selflessly devoted thousands of hours in doing so. He understood that these were important, not in some ego-driven "this is me!" kind of way but because he accurately saw these as creative explosions of deep social forces, and that few others were noticing.
He also applied his math skills to analyze and understand the flows of poster production - statistical analysis helped him to understand the underlying structure of the field, what was there and what was missing. It was amazing, insightful, and useful. He used to say that the numbers would speak to him, and the evidence is that they did so - eloquently.
But perhaps the most significant feature of Michael was that he embodied the ebullient vigor of the spirit of "the movement" - the deep belief that everyone deserved a richer, more integrated life in communal harmony. He was unafraid to push boundaries, to challenge stereotypes, and to accept new ideas.
Michael Rossman passed away May 12, 2008. He will be deeply missed.
Compañero Michael Rossman, presente!
Lincoln Cushing, Docs Populi (Documents for the Public), posted 5/17/2008.
A small community of poster scholars, artists, and activists will continue Michael's work in processing his poster collection and placing it in an accessible permanent home. See the above site for updates.
Michael Rossman's personal web page with multiple tendrils of his far-reaching interests.
Remarks about AOUON archive at Rossman memorial June 23, 2008- YouTube
Article in Oakland Tribune about the importance of the collection