Edmund S. Valtman (1914 – ) may be the only American cartoonist of the Cold War era who experienced Soviet rule firsthand. The Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist was working as a draftsman in his native Estonia when the Soviets overran the Baltic states in 1940. Russia went to war with Germany in 1941 and subsequently mobilized Estonian men under fifty, including Valtman’s two brothers, to the Soviet Union. Germany occupied Estonia for three years until the Soviets re-occupied the beleaguered nation. These tumultuous events and their repercussions marked Valtman profoundly – ultimately bringing him to American shores and sharply shaping his anti-Communist stance on Cold War issues in his cartoons. This online collection draws primarily upon the 340 drawings that he gave to the Library in 1999 – 2001.
Born May 31, 1914, in Tallinn, Estonia, Valtman grew up in a family deeply interested in art and politics. As a teenager he read about foreign affairs in newspapers, admired cartoons in the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus and English Punch, and assisted his older brother in his efforts to become a professional cartoonist. At the age of fifteen he sold his first drawings, cartoon illustrations for a children’s magazine (Laste rõõm). He trained first in private studios, then studied at the Tallinn Art and Applied Art School (1942 – 44) while he worked as editorial cartoonist for the Estonian newspapers Eesti Sõna and Maa Sõna. On September 21, 1944, the day that Soviet tanks re-entered Talinn, Valtman fled the country with his wife. After four years in displaced persons’ camps in Allied-controlled Germany, he found a sponsor in the United States and immigrated in 1949.
In 1951 Valtman obtained a position as editorial cartoonist with The Hartford Times and remained there until he retired in 1975. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1962 for his editorial cartoons of the previous year, which critique the regimes of socialist countries. In his lifework Valtman comments on a wide range of foreign and domestic issues from the Kennedy Presidency to the Clinton administration. Pointed assessments of Soviet and Chinese leaders and policies throughout the Cold War era form the dominant thread through his work. His caricatures of Nikita Khrushchev (1894 – 1971) and Leonid Brezhnev (1906 – 1982) are often devastating. Even Mikhail Gorbachev (1931 – ) is treated with skepticism. Though less biting toward American presidents, Valtman spares none of them hard scrutiny. The injustice of the Soviet Union toward small nations such as Estonia, emerges as an important sub-theme. His linear style, minimal shading, and shallow space gradually give way to use of more traditional perspective in later work. He avoids using text balloons, preferring to make a key figure’s statement the caption, and asserts this as his contribution to editorial cartooning. Valtman has channeled his passion and artistic energy into creating drawings that memorably expose injustices, poor decisions, and tyrannies committed by political leaders at national and global levels. He will be best remembered for his drawings that reflect strong personal commitment and forcefully indict 20th century leaders of totalitarian states.