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Doylestown Exhibit 'Stirs, Informs and Inflames'

This is the final weekend to see an exhibition of the biting political cartoons of Pulitzer Prize winning illustrator Tony Auth at the Michener Museum.

Doylestown Exhibit 'Stirs, Informs and Inflames' Doylestown Exhibit 'Stirs, Informs and Inflames' Doylestown Exhibit 'Stirs, Informs and Inflames' Doylestown Exhibit 'Stirs, Informs and Inflames' Doylestown Exhibit 'Stirs, Informs and Inflames'

Where do you draw the line?

If you're Tony Auth, you weave that line through every controversial topic imaginable - Vietnam, civil rights, the women's movement, gay marriage, Iran Contra, gun control, healthcare, abortion, Afghanistan.

The list literally goes on, and is written in black script on yellow walls at the James A. Michener Art Museum.

This weekend offers the final chance to see a retrospective of the prolific editorial cartoonist's career in Doylestown before it hits the road.  To Stir, Inform and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth is on view in the Michener's Fred Beans Gallery through Sunday, Oct. 21.

David Leopold, the guest curator who put together the exhibit, has a message for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

"You’re missing a once in a lifetime opportunity. Shows like this don’t happen very often," said Leopold, an author and curator who organizes museum exhibits nationwide. "To not take advantage of it when it’s literally in your backyard is ridiculous. Why wait to read about it someplace else?"

Tony Auth was a young artist out to make a name for himself when he won the position of editorial cartoonist at The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1971. Five years later, he won one of the newspaper's first Pulitzer Prizes during a journalistic and business turnaround that transformed a struggling newspaper into one of the best in the country.

Auth never shied away from taking a stand, and the politics and news of the 1970s gave him plenty of fodder. Vietnam, the arms race, the Civil Rights movement, all found their way into the sharp lines of his work published in The Inquirer and, through syndication, newspapers nationwide.

It was fitting, then, that Leopold designed the exhibit of Auth's work to mimic the layout of a newspaper, with sections on local, national, and international news. Sections on the nine presidents who held power during Auth's career - and often were the targets of his pen - tie it all together.

In the center of the installation, in a glass case, Auth's drafting table holds four of his notebooks, depicting sketches of a cartoon in progress.

The exhibit feels edgy and relevant, especially during this year's combative presidential race. One of the striking characteristics of Auth's body of work is how many of his older cartoons - drawn, in some cases, decades ago - continue to remain germane today.

"You look at something that could have been drawn yesterday, and you realize 'That’s from 1976. How is that possible?'" said Leopold.

Auth's drawings impart a liberal world view - supporting legalized abortion and gay marriage, for example, and frequently skewering Republican politicos. He remains unflinching in those stances.

"I’ve been amused over the years at detractors who accuse me of not doing any right-wing cartoons," he wrote on his eponymous website. "It’s as if they want me to offset myself, not realizing that I’m more than offset by the myriad right-wing commentary that runs constantly in The Inquirer."

For his part, Leopold knew the exhibit of Auth's work could, indeed, inflame some people who view it in Doylestown. But Michener curator Brian Peterson and other museum officials still took a chance on it.

"To their credit, they knew that the show could offend people, or might bother people," said Leopold, who lives in Bedminster, "because when you’re doing political cartooning, if you're good at it, you know there are two things you’re going to get: awards, and hate mail."

While the exhibit is imbued with the nostalgia of the days when newspapers were the prime means of shaping society's conversations, Auth's career has diverged from that medium. Now 70, Auth retired from The Inquirer in April.

Rather than travel or take it easy, though, Auth's "retirement" merely has given him new opportunities to tell his stories. He has embraced the excitement and uncertainty of the world of online news, working for WHYY and its website NewsWorks. His political cartoons still are syndicated nationwide.

Yes, he still uses pen and ink, and watercolor. But now, he's making videos and using digital apps, too.

He's still facing controversy head on, and taking on the race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney. And he still is grateful to the readers who have stuck with him for more than four decades.

"Over the years I’ve received thousands of letters and e-mails, expressing everything from passionate agreement to explicit hatred. But that’s the nature of the conversation I wanted to be a part of," Auth wrote. "I’ve had my loudspeaker, and I’ve never begrudged any response from any of the people I’ve tried to stir, inform, and inflame."

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