Pentagram partner Emily Oberman and her husband were looking round her mother Arline’s attic when they came across a selection of illustrations they had never seen before. On further investigation they turned out to be a series of drawings Arline did in front of the television during the McCarthy Senate hearings of 1954. At the height of Cold War paranoia, Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded an ugly, aggressive campaign to root out Communist supporters and sympathisers from all areas of American public life, and when he turned his attention to the US Army, the nation sat transfixed as an extraordinary drama played out live in their living rooms (the hearings were the first non sports national event ever to be televised).
Arline followed the hearings intently as well, but the difference was she sat there drawing the main protagonists and witnesses, from the sneering McCarthy to those summoned before him and even the secretaries who had the prime seats. Arline’s illustrations capture something no photograph or film reel could, a physiognomic commentary on the key players in one of the strangest episodes of contemporary American history.
The drawings have recently been published via Emily as part of the agency’s Pentagram Papers series; a fantastic homage to the enduring power of reportage illustration.