Apr 5

Navy Poster Art

Monday, April 5, 2010 1:00 AM


The Navy Art Collection is fortunate to have a small collection of original recruiting poster artwork. Nowadays recruiting materials usually have photographic images, but in earlier eras, some well known artists did their “bit for the war effort” by creating fabulous art promoting recruiting and home front production.

Don’t Read American History, Make It!, by James Montgomery Flagg, oil on canvas,


This well-known World War I poster image is by James Montgomery Flagg, the artist of the “I Want You” army poster.

Two Naval Officers Shooting the Sun, by McClelland Barclay, oil on canvas, 1941, 48-31-D.

This World War II poster image is by McClelland Barclay. Barclay was already a famous designer when he joined the recruiting bureau. When he heard about the work being done by the Combat Artist Section, a number of the recruiting bureau artists wanted to do combat art as well, but the Section was very selective. Recruiting sent out several artists on their own initiative, including Barclay. In the Solomon Islands, the LST he was traveling on was torpedoes and Barclay was listed as missing in action. Most of the art that he created for the Navy returned to his estate and has been coming on the market gradually over the past few years. But if you surf the online auctions, you’re more likely to encounter Barclay’s name associated with jewelry as with paintings. He was a truly multi-talented designer.

Heritage, by Lou Nolan, gouache on illustration board, circa 1960, 83-76-A.

This poster image, painted in 1959 and used throughout the Vietnam era, was painted Lou Nolan on contract to the Navy recruiting office (perhaps some of my readers can help me with the correct names of the commands and bureaus of each era). It is one of the most recognized Navy images of the past 60 years and was recently incorporated into the Naval History and Heritage Command logo.

  • Barry Hoy

    I have an original metal sign from a Navy Recruiting Office which I acquired sometime around 1971. The image is the Lou Nolan painting entitled “Heritage”. It has been hanging in my shop for the last 39 years and I have no idea how old it was when I got it. It has to go so I have it on eBay right now.

    Search using some of the words; original recruiting sign Navy Heritage Nolan”

  • Kermit Cain

    The original painting is hanging on the stairwell of the Fleet and Family Support Center, Naval Base San Diego, CA

  • Jon Yim

    The artist’s full name was Louis James Nolan.

    According to Commander Navy Recruiting Command’s (CNRC) history page:

    The first Navy recruiter was a part of the Marine Committee established in 1775 during the Revolutionary War. Soon thereafter, however, the Secretary of the Navy assumed direct responsibility for recruiting. This task was later delegated to the Bureau of Construction and Repair and then to the Bureau of Navigation before the function was assigned to the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) in 1942.

    For the next 29 years (1942-1971), the Chief of Naval Personnel retained the direct responsibility for recruiting. On April 6, 1971, the Secretary of the Navy, in response to the challenges of the forthcoming end of the draft and the increased emphasis on Navy recruiting, approved the establishment of the Navy Recruiting Command as a field activity of the Chief of Naval Personnel. The last draft calls were made in December 1972.

    The One-Navy recruiting concept was adopted in April 1973; thus, the Navy Recruiting Command recruits for all active duty programs, regular and reserve, officer and enlisted, with the exception of the Sea and Air Mariner Program and the Naval Academy. With the increased sophistication of Navy surface ships, submarines and aircraft, has come the requirement to recruit more technically trained, highly motivated individuals with the aptitude to succeed in the unique Navy environment. Consequently, the Navy has raised its quality standards and selectivity criteria to provide fleet units with the best potential individuals.

  • James Nolan

    My father painted this in our back yard in Bethesda MD. I was the little boy, my uncle was the sailor… He was an amazing artist.. I miss him !

  • James Nolan

    BTW, his name was Louis James Nolan Jr.

  • Thanks so much! What a small world! Great anecdote

  • This is the poster that was out in front my Navy Recruiting Office when I joined, it may be one of the factors that leaned me to the Navy. Funny, how little thing can make such grand changes in our lives.

  • Catherine Clanton

    We have a metal poster framed hanging in our garage. It has another picture on the other side. How nice to see where it originated. My father-in-law is retired navy. (he gave it to us) My husband did 8 years as a nuke and my two oldest boys are currently serving.

  • Erich Dobson

    Hi, I’m tryting to find out information on the Heritage image, by Lou Nolan, gouache on illustration board, circa 1960, 83-76-A.
    I’m mainly looking into the history of the recruitment posters that were mailed out to post offices back in the 60’s and how to differentiate between an original poster and a more modern reprint. Or there any size or color variations that might clue me in? Thanks

  • Jennifer Hogan

    I would like to know if Louis was on the Ship Savo Island in WWII
    I think he was a good friend of my father.

  • Dale L. Pohl DCCM SW (ret)

    I received a copy of this Heritage poster in 1992 while stationed at Naval Station Charleston, SC signed by the sailor posing for the painting. He was a CWO3 at the time. Can anyone tell me his name?

  • Jacqueline Daffron

    I got one of these from the navy recruiters office at the Navy Yard (DC) to frame and hang in my son’s nursery (born 1968). We lived in navy housing adjacent to Bowling AFB

  • greg corley

    I used the Heritage poster as a defense to go ashore one day in Yokosuka, Japan in the early 60’s.
    The Chief on our ship would not let me go ashore because I was wearing bell bottoms with slighly larger bells than normal.
    I said, “Chief, haven’t you seen that poster of a sailor in exaggerated bell bottoms, his arm around a young lad with a sailing ship in the background?” He said,”Yeah, I’ve seen it.”
    “Chief, that’s an official Navy poster.” “Okay, get the heck outta here.”

  • greg corley

    Edit my last post. It should read: holding a young lads hand instead of his arm around a young lad.

  • Doug Bowen

    I grew up with Mr. Nolan and his sons. He was an amazing artist. He always had something on the easel. He was very much a “detail-oriented” artist and quite knowledgable about things naval/military.

  • Kerry Nolan

    To the guy who claimed to have been given a copy of the poster by the guy who posed for it, I must tell you, you are wrong.
    My father, (and thank you Doug for commenting)Lois Nolan, painted this, and many other posters for the Navy. My uncle Brian, and my twin brother Jimmy, posed for that poster in the early 60’s.
    To Jennifer Hogan, the answer is yes, my father served aboard the USS Savo Island during the war.

  • Kerry Nolan

    Sorry for the typo, Louis Nolan

  • Headless Doll

    To Kerry: It was Bryan not Brian

    p.s. Hubba hubba!

  • Bruce C. Boatwright

    I worked at Nolan, Duffy and White in Arlington Virginia from about 1972 until 1975. I was the lowly delivery driver and I remember that Lou Nolan treated me kindly and with the utmost respect. I was always welcome in his office/studio space and he took the time to answer my questions. He was a true gentleman and fabulous artist. I began my graphic career with that outfit as a typesetter.