Notes from the Catalogue: Howard Chandler Christy's "I Am An American!"

Our fourth annual auction of Illustration Art features the auction debut of Howard Chandler Christy's large and masterly drawing for the poster I Am an American!, created for the 1941 Mayor's Committee Celebration of "I Am an American Day."

Lot 148: Howard Chandler Christy, I Am an American!, charcoal and pastel on board, 1941. Estimate $25,000 to $35,000.

This original study for the iconic "I Am an American" billboard poster was donated by Howard Chandler Christy to PS. 60, the Ottilia M. Beha Junior High School, 420 East 12th Street, New York City. It was created to celebrate "I Am an American Day" on May 18th, 1941. The event took place in Central Park, where native-born Americans and those who had attained citizenship through naturalization gathered and recited an oath of allegiance to the United States. Congress eventually moved the holiday to September and renamed it "Constitution and Citizenship Day." 

The determined, spirited "Columbia" in the maquette was based on model Elise Ford; she is seen here donning a traditional laurel wreath, bearing a torch and a volume of Constitutional Law. The Chairman for the Mayor's rally committee, Federal Judge Murray Hulbert, was quoted in the New York Times on May 4, 1941, suggesting that if Hitler could see the poster it would "stop him in his tracks." Billboard-sized versions of the poster were hung in Times Square to publicize the Central Park celebrations in the 1940s. Both Christy and Ford were in attendance at the Times Square unveiling in 1942 with Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

Robert Frank, Untitled-I am an American Day sign, in the permanent collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell University. 

For more original illustrations from important artists, check out our full catalogue

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