Robert A. Thom, "Papyrus and Pictography," oil on canvas, Kimberly Clark Graphic Communications Through the Ages Series, ca. 1960.
“Graphic Communications Through the Ages” commemorates significant milestones in the history of communications technologies: the development of paper and character forms, typography design, and printing. The painting series was commissioned in 1966 by Kimberly-Clark Corporation, the 135-year-old paper manufacturer whose brands have now expanded to include health and consumer paper products.
Kimberly-Clark employed three artists to undertake the ambitious 24-painting series: Robert A. Thom, George Parrish, Jr., and Douglas Parrish. The artists carefully researched each scene by referencing portraits of their subjects, learning about historic equipment, and sometimes even building scale models to aid in faithful technological depiction. The resulting works are marked by a lush realism where accurate costume and scene offer delightful windows on the working lives of such icons as Charlemagne, Gutenberg, and Franklin.
Upon completion of the paintings in 1971, Kimberly-Clark promoted them by traveling an educational exhibition, which toured some 300 venues across the United States. Explanatory text panels included in the show recounted the story of graphic communications over the several thousand years documented by the paintings. In 1975 the paintings were donated to Rochester Institute of Technology, specifically for display in the university’s distinguished School of Print Media. In 1991 the bulk of the collection was moved to the Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Graphic Arts Collection at The Wallace Center at RIT.