Revisiting the Campaign Posters From Hunter S. Thompson’s Run for Office

Singular images from a singular political campaign

Hunter S. Thompson
Journalist Hunter S. Thompson takes a walk on his ranch circa 1976 near Aspen Colorado.
Getty Images

Not too many writers have run for office, but when they do, it’s generally an event. One of the most memorable of these took place in 1970, when Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff in Aspen, Colorado. Over 50 years later, his campaign has become the stuff of legend. And among the many things that arose from Thompson’s run for office is some incredibly distinctive artwork.

Now, the New York museum Poster House has installed Freak Power, a retrospective exhibition of the posters that promoted Thompson’s campaign. Among the curators involved with the exhibit is Daniel Joseph Watkins, author of the book that inspired the 2020 documentary about the same run for office.

An article by Brett Sokol at The New York Times offers a closer look at how the exhibit came together. Among the early challenges: moving the posters, designed by Thomas W. Benton, from a show Watkins had assembled in Aspen to New York City. Given the intense attachment that many of the posters’ owners had to them, Watkins ended up handling the transportation himself, sleeping in Walmart parking lots in the same space as the posters.

“It would have been much easier to borrow a Warhol or a Rothko from some of these people,” Watkins told the Times.

The exhibit also contains art by frequent Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman, along with a number of photographs of the campaign as it was happening. Watkins points out that Thompson, while losing the 1970 campaign, ended up becoming a highly influential figure in local politics in Aspen. Watkins refers to Thompson as a “prescient political thinker who transformed a community with a radical campaign.”

Thompson’s larger-than-life image may be the biggest draw for this show — but visitors may find a more nuanced portrait of the writer once they arrive.

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