The Daily Heller: Trump is Broadsided

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Ward Schumaker, a veteran painter and illustrator, anticipates the 2024 election will be a war of words. So, as the campaign kicks into gear, he turned scores of Donald Trump’s most quotable bon mots into typographic broadsides—modern-day samplers—that measure 37″ x 25″, painted with acrylic + paste (along with some collage elements).

He’s been met with various responses, not all of them positive. For example, Schumaker told me that when he gave a talk about his Trump work at a museum, he was “harassed verbally” by a member of the board of directors: “These are all lies,” the board member barked. “Trump never said half these things!” And when showing them at Jack Fischer Gallery, a stranger threatened to pound him. These incidents happened in San Francisco, theoretically a safe place for such artworks. “Yet in Nashville, a pro–Trump stronghold, I was greeted with kindness, applause and appreciation.”

Schumaker is expressing himself in the media he knows best. I asked him what he hopes readers take away from it all.

I have a reasonable idea what triggered these broadsides, but can you put it in your own words?
I’d never been very political, but about seven years ago I asked my grandson what he’d been studying in school that day. “How not to be a bully,” he answered. Then added: “You know, like Donald Trump.” At the time I was making large, one-of-a-kind, hand-painted books, many using hand-cut stenciled words, and I decided to do one using Trump’s words. It was not the kind of subject I’d regularly use, and when I finished I didn’t know what to do with it. One night I woke thinking I should show it to my gallerist (at the time, Jack Fischer). I sent him jpgs, insisting he promise to show no one.

He promised. But the next day a woman came into the gallery and asked to see my work—she might buy a painting. Jack apologized, and said he’d only recently moved, and all my work was still at his old address. She sighed and started to leave. Jack stopped her: “But would you like to see an interesting project Ward’s been working on?”

Then he broke his promise. After seeing three of the spreads, the woman said, “Stop. Can I get my husband in here? He’s out in the hall.” The husband came in, looked at the work, then said, “I’m with Chronicle Books; do you think Ward would let us publish a facsimile of this?” In record time, Chronicle produced it as a trade book: Hate Is What We Need. The title is from one of Trump’s quotes.

And that might have been the end of it. But about the time I finished that first book, white supremacists marched through Charlottesville shouting “Jews will not replace us,” and Trump stated that there were “good people on both sides.” I felt compelled to make another book, this time including not only Trump’s incendiary words, but the words of others, both in support of Trump and those opposed. (That book is now in the collection of the Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Arts.)

However, my books are seen by few people, so I began making large broadsides in hopes of exhibiting them. I thought I might create 10, maybe even 15. I ended up creating 350. I am extremely grateful that the Letterform Archive has given each and every one of them a home in its collection. See their book Strikethrough. While I thought I’d quit a long time ago, I recently started doing more, which I mount on Instagram and Facebook.

Was it your intention to, shall we say, seduce the viewer into reading these?
My intentions vary, but first is always simply making certain others have seen and digested the latest vile words from Trump and/or his minions. If I have time, I might try to be clever, but most often it has been: What can I do quickly and still get my regular work done? And of course there is the fact that I’m a painter, not really a designer at all, so I have often embarrassed myself trying to be clever. I know some great designers and ask their forbearance.

You’ve succeeded at, in my view, what many “political artists” try and often fail to do, which is make intriguing art with a message that stands on its own. Was this your intent?
Thank you. I recognize that I don’t have the particular talent of esteemed illustrators (i.e. Edel Rodriguez) but I do value my paintings—and they’ve included words since I started painting, as a kid, back in the ’60s. So it has been a matter of simply doing what I do best: words-as-paintings.

How long did it take to make these broadsheets?
I started working on these in 2017 and I’m still making them. Each one is created using hand-cut stencils, so the longer the quotation, the longer it takes. The wordiest have taken three days to accomplish, others have been completed in one day. Often I start cutting words with no plan at all. I think of them as paintings, and my paintings have always followed that Rauschenberg rule: Do something, then do something else to it. It may not be the wisest way to work, but it’s what I know.

Is your work a kind of anti-DIY/DIY aesthetic?
As a kid I often raised my grade by doing what was termed as extra credit: making a book cover for biology class, for example, by pasting cut-paper words that said “Clothes don’t make the man, cells do.” As a 12 year old I was very proud of that. Of course I should have been embarrassed. Later, at the age of 35 I began illustrating, and my best work was definitely DIY because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Why haven’t I seen your Trump work on social media?
Early on I tried mounting the Trump Papers on Twitter. I was almost immediately thrown off. I wrote [to Twitter], asking for an explanation. Over and over I wrote. I got no response. Years later, a couple months after Biden was elected, I got a note from Twitter saying I could once again post on their site. Of course, I quit.

What do you feel is the most powerful piece among these?
Trump: “Women: You have to treat them like shit.”

Liz Cheney: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

And the most frightening—Trump: “This could very well be the last election this country ever has.”

How will you put these to use in the coming battle?
Truthfully, I don’t know.

What’s next for you in terms of where you’re feelings will drive your work?
Just before I hit 80, I started working in clay, and that’s been a joy. But Trump is running again and very possibly will win, so what can a person do?