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.
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