Drawing from our political past

Pulitzer prize winning cartoons on display at Washougal High

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Library assistant Fran McCarty filled out a grant to get the "Herblock on Democracy" exhibit on display at the Washougal High School Library. It features several political illustrations from the past that McCarty feels are still relevant today.

When she discovered political cartoonist Herbert Block and his five travelling art exhibitions, Washougal High librarian Fran McCarty wanted to bring the power of Block’s art to her students.

“I think that the students in the school need to see that everything that is relevant today can well be from the past. We need to grow and change things, and the only way we do that is from learning what’s already happened,” McCarty said. “I’m hoping this gives them an idea of what political cartoons are all about. Newspapers aren’t as viable today. The kids choose everything on the internet. But something like this, it’s eye-opening for them. I’m hoping they really take advantage of it.”

Thanks to McCarty’s efforts, the “Herblock on Democracy” exhibit is on display at the high school’s library now through Friday, Nov. 17. McCarty also secured a “Herblock” environmental exhibit for the library, which will be on display in April of 2018.

According to The Herb Block Foundation Collection, the cartoonist caricatured 13 U.S. presidents and chronicled American history from the 1929 stock market crash through the summer of 2001. He became the most honored cartoonist of his time — winning three Pulitzer prizes and sharing a fourth for his Watergate cartoons, which contributed to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. He was the only living cartoonist whose work was displayed in the National Gallery of Art, and the only living cartoonist to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

McCarty said that, so far, she has received positive feedback from people who have viewed the display. Washougal mayoral candidates Molly Coston, Dan Coursey and Paul Godin came to the library on Nov. 1, for WHS’ career day, and had a chance to see the exhibit. McCarty has also been encouraging history teachers to bring their students in to see the cartoons.

“I’ve been around a long time. I’m the oldest person in the building,” said McCarty, 74. “I’ve watched all of this happen and I worry about where we are in the world. Do the kids have a clue? They don’t seem to get into the politics so much today as they did. They’re so busy with their cellphones.”

McCarty started researching the “Herblock” editorial cartoon exhibitions about a year ago. She found out that the cost of shipping one to Washougal would be $460. The Herb Block Foundation offered grants to help pay for the shipping. McCarty requested two grants, received them both and reserved the exhibits to arrive as soon as possible.

“If it lights up one brain, then it was worth everything that we’ve done to get it,” McCarty said.

“I think art and drawing and cartooning has gone in a different direction now with the way kids see things with videogames and technology. I think it’s nice for them to see something like this and how powerful it can be. We have some amazing artists at this school. It’s good for them to see what they can do. (Block) started as a youngster.”

McCarty said the library now has several copies of a book on Block’s art available for checkout. For more information, visit