The Poster that Changed Polish History

Posted by Steven Seidman on Saturday, April 14, 2018

Shared from the Facebook page of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (February 9, 2018):

In 1989, Tomasz Sarnecki was a 23 year-old art student in Warsaw, Poland, working on a class project making collages from U.S. Western films. His teacher called in an organizer from Solidarnosc (Solidarity), to see his work. Solidarnosc, founded in 1980, was the first trade union in Poland that was not controlled by the Communist Party.

The organizer picked one of Tomasz’s several mockups and took it with her, without giving any indication why. That was the last time Tomasz saw his art until the Sunday of the 1989 elections. While visiting Los Angeles in 1999, Tomasz described what happened: “I was walking to church with my parents, with whom I lived in Warsaw, and suddenly saw my poster everywhere. My breath was taken away and my knees started to buckle.” Ten years later, the poster was reprinted on the cover of a major Polish magazine — the Polish equivalent of "Time Magazine." It was titled: “The Poster that ended Communism in Poland.” When Tomasz called the magazine to say he was the artist, they responded, "This poster belongs to Poland" and hung up on him. Not until the Autry Museum of Western Heritage produced an exhibition on “Polish Poster Art and the Western” (1999) did Tomasz Sarnecki receive recognition for his poster.

Thousands of copies of High Noon for Poland were printed in Italy, airdropped into Warsaw in the middle of the night, and wheat-pasted everywhere. Since Solidarnosc did not have the resources to carry out this level of action, it is assumed that the CIA or another agency of the U.S. government was involved. The “guerrilla postering” in support of the outlawed Solidarnosc so excited and empowered the majority of Poles that they came out to vote en masse, and brought Solidarnosc and its leader, Lech Walesa, to power.

The poster was included in an exhibition of the 100 most important posters of the 20th century, held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Tomasz Sarnecki died last month, at age 51.

The iconic logo behind Cooper was designed by Jerzy Janiszewski, created for Solidarnosc in 1980. Janiszewski’s graphic design uses original typeface, blood-red letters and the Polish flag emerging out of the letter “N” (for nation).

[High Noon for Poland
Tomasz Sarnecki
Solidarnosc (with help from the CIA & the Vatican)
Offset, 1989
Designed: Warsaw, Poland
Printed: Rome, Italy