The Great Mexican War

This blog post is in three sections.

One: Concerning the physical work we’ve done to this particular poster, our process and the before/after photos.

Two: Dealing with the movie The Great Mexican War, and the man who made the movie.

Three: A brief but self-indulgent history of Mexico, as it relates to the movie.

One

The Great Mexican War, before.

The Great Mexican War, before.

This poster came to us mounted on an old backing that the client wanted removed. We were to then clean the paper and give the poster a fresh new backing. This is called re-lining and it’s a simple process we perform frequently. The client did not want any of the paper’s cosmetic damage restored. Many people prefer their posters to retain their aged look, and we can absolutely accomodate this by not restoring fold lines, tears and holes in paper.

Linen backing alone can greatly improve a poster’s appearance, making it easier to see the printed image by removing waves, wrinkles, and therefore glare. It also keeps gravity from pulling at the fragile paper when the poster is hanging vertically on a wall. When a poster is hung unmounted, even if it is in a frame, it must support its own weight, often being suspended from very small areas in the paper. When the poster is linen backed, the load is transferred to the backing. Linen backing also slows the process of deterioration in the paper by helping to neutralize its acid content, and makes the poster rollable for storage and portability.

Below are some photos of the process.

The poster waiting to be re-lined.

The poster waiting to be re-lined.

A close-up of some problematic areas. An old backing can loosen over time, letting stray tears fold into flaps that will eventually turn into holes.

A close-up of some problematic areas. An old backing can loosen over time, letting stray tears fold into flaps that will eventually turn into holes.

Here you can see the old, frayed backing peeking through this missing corner. In the earlier days of linen-backing, posters were adhered directly to the fabric, with no barrier paper. This method has since been developed to include a layer of acid-free paper between poster and fabric. This protects the poster from the small acid content in the fabric, and slows the progress of acidification in the poster paper.

Here you can see the old, frayed backing peeking through this missing corner. In the earlier days of linen backing, posters were adhered directly to fabric, with no barrier paper. This method has since been developed to include a layer of acid-free paper between poster and fabric. This protects the poster from the small acid content in the fabric, and slows the progress of acidification in the poster paper.

Katie begins by spraying a mild, paper-safe detergent across the surface of the poster to cleanse it.

Katie has begun by spraying a mild, paper-safe detergent across the surface of the poster to cleanse it.

She attempts to get the paper as flat and flap-free as possible before addressing the back.

She attempts to get the paper as flat and flap-free as possible before addressing the back.

The poster is flipped with the aid of mylar...

The poster is flipped with the aid of mylar…

Vintage Poster Restoration

She then sprays the back with detergent and water and lets it sit for a while to loosen the old adhesive.

Waiting, soaking...

Dirt and spotty mildew are visible on the old backing.

The backing is then removed slowly and carefully, while the poster lies face-down on the table.

The backing is slowly and carefully peeled off while the poster lies face-down on the table.

The lower half of the poster, which was only held together by the old backing, waits to be mounted while the top half is de-mounted.

The lower half of the poster, which was only held together by the old backing, waits while the top half is de-mounted.

The poster had some previous restoration, and the old patches are removed before linen backing.

The poster had some previous restoration, and the old patches are removed before linen backing. This patch is yellow for some reason. Linen backing was invented during the American Civil War in order to preserve repeatedly-folded maps. As a relatively new process it sees constant innovation, so older backings usually have unfamiliar features like this.

More odd patches.

More odd patches.

The back of the poster is pasted with an archival, reversible, starch-based adhesive.

The back of the poster is pasted with an archival, reversible, starch-based adhesive.

Here is the three-sheet (41

Here is the three-sheet (41″x81″) poster after linen backing. The cosmetic damage has been left, but the surface of the poster is now perfectly flat, and all loose bits are firmly attached to a sturdier backing.

Two
Our poster advertises four reels of film about the Mexican Revolution, made by an American reporter for the Associated Press, Charles A Pryor. Helpfully, the PBS series History Detectives has already done a show on Pryor’s Mexican war films, and their corresponding posters, and you can watch it here. (If the video is no longer available, you can read the transcript here.) In it, we learn that the films were probably shot in the El Paso area, just across the river from warring Mexico. Pancho Villa was in that area at the time, and many reporters were drawn there in hopes of filming him.

We also learn that Charles Pryor was not in truth a reporter for the Associated Press, and copies of his film are very rare. He was in fact arrested for grand larceny because, though he sold his film to many theaters, the films were never delivered. The few existing copies can be watched at the National Archives in Washington DC.

Below is footage of the Battle of Ojinaga, as reenacted for the Mutual Films Co. They’re not Pryor’s films, but similar.

Three

In LA, as in much of the Southwestern US, Mexico is a very visible presence. Los Angeles County is 40% Latino. 25% of Californians have Mexican ancestry. 28% of Californians speak Spanish as a primary language. 167 years ago, this state was part of Mexico, and my home sits only 170 miles away from the present border. Having been born and raised here, I assumed I knew the basics of Mexican history, if only by osmosis. No. Not true. Mexican history is a labyrinth. A crazy crazy labyrinth.

I assumed, when this poster came in, that the Great Mexican War referred to the Mexican Revolution. This is true, but the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) is not what liberated Mexico from Spain. If you share my great ignorance of Mexico, you may as well learn here that Cinco de Mayo also has nothing to do with Mexican independence from Spain.

Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, after the Mexican War of Independence.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates a temporary Mexican victory over French occupiers in an 1862 battle during the second French Intervention in Mexico. So France actually invaded Mexico. The justification was that Mexico owed money to France, Britain, and Spain, and had recently ceased paying interest on that money. Napoleon III convinced the other two countries to support his invasion of Mexico, whereby he gained access to Mexico’s lovely, lovely supply of silver. Napoleon III had an empire to maintain, and empires are expensive.

That’s when Emperor Maximiliano I, a HABSBURG was put on the “throne” of Mexico! He was executed in 1867 after only three years, but still. A Habsburg. The very inbred family who brought you the Habsburg Lip, Marie Antoinette and this fellow:

Leopold I as Acis in the play

Leopold I as Acis in the play “La Galatea”
Source: Jan Thomas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many many other things happened in Mexico, but lets get back to business.

The war we’re looking for is the Mexican Revolution. It happened between 1910-1920, and killed 10% of the Mexican population. What initially unified the revolutionaries was the need to oust President Porfirio Díaz, whose thirty-five year reign had left everyone with only one person to blame for the nation’s sundry problems.

When Díaz was exiled, several different leaders were appointed and then assassinated or deposed in quick succession. The war began with a unified mission and evolved into a disjointed struggle between every group with an agenda. A constitution was drafted in 1917, and eventually the fighting ceased. The ultimate results of the revolution are debatable, but the issues paid the most lip service were: a less autocratic leadership, fewer armies, more power for the peasantry, organized labor, economic nationalism and land reform. It can be said that if anything, the war solidified Mexico’s identity as a country.

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