By Kristin Bender
BERKELEY If you didn't live through the 1960s and '70s, but want a
glimpse into free love, psychedelic rock 'n' roll and the civil
rights movement, there are more than three dozen political, music and
culture posters on display at the Berkeley Historical Society ready
to take you back in time.
When Michael Rossman, an activist in the Free Speech Movement, died
last May, he left behind about 25,000 vibrant posters that promoted
concerts and rallies, advertised political campaigns, and gave ink to
social causes, such as the women's movement, gay liberation and
Rossman collected the posters starting in about 1977, carefully
untacking them from light posts once an event was over, scanning eBay
for them and scouring flea markets and thrift stores for a find.
Librarian archivist Lincoln Cushing, who was a longtime friend of
Rossman's, has had the posters in his Berkeley hills home since
Rossman's death, and, for the first time, has put 39 of them on
display at the Berkeley Historical Society.
"The hard thing was figuring out what not to include," Cushing said.
"It had to be by (someone in Berkeley) or about Berkeley to be in the show."
Posters span from 1965 to 1974 and cover a range of subjects.
"They are really taking a risk on this show," Cushing said. "This is
not what people think of when they think of history."
The Berkeley Historical Society, like many such places, does have its
share of musty catalogs and books, volunteers who have a sense of
history because they actually lived through it, stacks of old photos
and yellowing newspapers, and what some may consider dry exhibits.
But recently it has been hosting edgier shows with wide appeal.
Last month, it was home to "Berkeley, A City of Firsts," an exhibit
about how the city has been a leader in innovations: The fire
department pioneered the use of smoke blowers, the school district
was the first to voluntarily integrate students and the city was the
first to ban Styrofoam.
"It's usually old history (here)," said society volunteer John
Aronovici. "This is medium history. Everything that happens today is
The show will run through Sept. 26. Cushing is trying to find a
permanent home for the posters and is in discussions with the Oakland
Museum and the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, officials from both venues said.
"There would certainly be a home for them if they were offered," said
Steven Black, the head of acquisitions at the Bancroft Library.
Oakland Museum of California spokeswoman Elizabeth Whipple said the
art department is in discussions with Cushing about possibly housing
the massive collection.
It was Rossman's dying wish that the collection be accessible, remain
in the Bay Area and stay intact. Rossman died of leukemia on May 12. He was 68.
Until there is a permanent home, the posters may only be seen in
excerpts, such as at the society.
"It's a perfect venue for explaining what the '60s was about,"
Cushing said. "Visual clues will permeate faster than just yakking about it."
Kristin Bender covers Berkeley. Reach her at email@example.com.
If you go What: Berkeley Historical Society Exhibit: "Up Against the
Wall" Where: Veterans Memorial building, 1931 Center St. When: Open 1
to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays Cost: Free, but donations welcomed
If you go What: Book release premiere: "Agitate! Educate! Organize!"
By Lincoln Cushing and Timothy W. Drescher (includes many posters
from the collection) Where: Alliance Graphics, 1101 Eighth St. in
Berkeley When: 6:30 to 9 p.m. today