An artist turned World War I posters into calls for Americans to wear face masks, and the images are striking

World War I posters recreated by Clara Aranovich.United States National War Garden Commission, 1918; Z.P. Nikolaki, Library of Congress, 1918; Clara Aranovich
  • The filmmaker and writer Clara Aranovich altered American propaganda posters from World War I to include calls for people to wear face masks.
  • Her idea came after the number of US coronavirus deaths surpassed that of Americans who died in service during World War I.
  • She added images of face coverings and tweaked the posters' messaging to show mask-wearing as a meaningful sacrifice to help limit the coronavirus' spread.
  • Aranovich spoke with Insider about the story behind her modernized war-effort posters that had been shared widely on Instagram.

A series of retro illustrations offer a modern take on American propaganda posters from World War I — showing what the images might have looked like if they were made to promote mask-wearing to try to contain the novel coronavirus.

Clara Aranovich, a writer and filmmaker who has also worked as a period researcher for the TV series "Mad Men," is the brains behind the re-created posters, which have been shared thousands of times on Instagram since early July.

Aranovich told Insider her artwork was meant to inspire a sense of camaraderie in the same way many people united to support America's efforts in World War I, which included actions like rationing supplies to partaking in "meatless" and "wheatless" days.Advertisement

Lady Liberty wears a mask in the edited version.Clara Aranovich-Valdés

Aranovich's idea for the art came in June, when the US reached a harrowing statistic. The number of Americans who had died from causes linked to the coronavirus surpassed the number of Americans who were killed in World War I.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 116,516 Americans died in World War I, with 53,402 deaths occurring in battle and 63,114 fatalities occurring in other forms of service. At the time of writing, there were 142,350 COVID-19-related deaths in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus tracker.

Aranovich wanted to inspire a sense of unity with her art.United States National War Garden Commission, 1918; Clara Aranovich

The posters Aranovich modified were originally distributed around 1917 and 1918, when the US became involved in World War I. She modernized them by overlaying face masks and editing the text to include calls for people to wear face coverings in public. "I wanted to point to the repetition of history," Aranovich said. "I was inspired to contrast the pandemic with other major events that have united our country."Advertisement

When America became involved in World War I in 1917, propaganda posters encouraged people to grow their own produce by planting "victory gardens" so more food could be exported to soldiers and allies overseas. Propaganda messages from the era also encouraged Americans to use less gasoline and ration food in support of the war effort.

Aranovich added a subtle face mask to this design by illustrator Fred G. Cooper.US Food Administration, 1917; Clara Aranovich

Aranovich said she hoped her modernized posters could help give historical context to mask-wearing — which has become a hotly debated topic in the US, despite guidance from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health experts.Advertisement

"I imagine that giving up bread or gasoline for days at a time was a big sacrifice for many people, but for many people, it was also a no-brainer because they knew it would support the war effort," Aranovich said. "I wanted to inspire that same way of thinking and sense of altruism, even if just one person can see the minor inconveniences of wearing a face mask as a sacrifice for the greater good."

The poster originally read "Will you help the women of France? Save wheat," referencing a food shortage.Edward Penfield, Library of Congress, 1918; Clara Aranovich

Aranovich's work can be found on Instagram.Advertisement