Artists of the Airways Airline Travel Posters

Artists of the Airways Airline Travel Posters

International Terminal

Aviation Museum & Library, Departures, Level 3
Apr 06, 2024 - Oct 05, 2025

Artists of the Airways
Airline Travel Posters from the SFO Museum Collection

Published by airlines to promote their air services as well as the destinations they served, airline posters represent the best examples of travel artwork from the twentieth century. With the advent of commercial aviation in the late 1910s and ‘20s, and the novelty of traveling by airplane, artists initially illustrated aircraft on their posters to attract customers through this emerging medium of mass production. During the 1930s, as commercial carriers expanded their fleets, routes, and services, artists soon began incorporating illustrations of the destinations as well, in conjunction with the airlines’ appeal to their target audience of primarily affluent American tourists. These often included landscapes, landmarks, people, flora, and fauna intended to promote the airline’s service to the viewer. Although posters usually contained descriptive text, poster artists created images that were designed to convey a message the viewer would immediately understand. Airline poster artists developed a particular rhetoric of visual persuasion to entice customers with a combination of romance, fantasy, and glamour, while also communicating the carrier’s services and brand identity. Some of these illustrations reflect Western biases and racial stereotypes. We invite viewers to engage with these works not only as art, but as historical artifacts that offer insight into past misperceptions and exoticized portrayals of cultures. We hope these posters encourage dialogue as we move forward towards a more respectful and inclusive global outlook.

This exhibition presents the artwork of seven airline poster artists from the early 1930s to 1980: Paul George Lawler (1905–75), Charles Baskerville (1896–1994), Mark von Arenburg (1902–57), Harry Rogers (1929–2012), David Klein (1918–2005), Dong Kingman (1911–2000), and John Henry Alvin (1948–2008). All the posters reproduced in this exhibition are from the SFO Museum Collection, which consists of nearly thirteen hundred airline posters, from the 1920s to the present. 


American Airlines San Francisco travel poster (detail)  c. 1970
Dong Kingman
Collection of SFO Museum

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