Friday, December 1, 2017

"Money in the Face of the Modern Girl"

Time was when illustrators (and cartoonists) were celebrities and among the highest paid people in the arts and entertainment in America. Sidney Smith, for example, signed a contract in 1922 to draw a chinless wonder called Andy Gump at a rate of $100,000 a year for ten years. In 1935, Smith got a raise, his new contract guaranteeing him $150,000 annually for his work on the daily comic strip The Gumps. Unfortunately for Smith, the Grim Reaper came calling. Smith wrecked his car on October 20, 1935, and was instantly killed. Other artists were a little luckier and enjoyed comfortable, often lavish, lifestyles, especially in the artists colonies around New York City, in New Rochelle, New York, Silvermine, Connecticut, and Leonia, New Jersey, for example. Chicago Tribune staffer John T. McCutcheon, a Hoosier cartoonist and the longtime dean of American editorial cartoonists, even owned his own tropical island.

A good deal of the wealth and celebrity enjoyed by American illustrators and cartoonists was made possible by the technological advances of the late 1800s and early 1900s, advances that made the artwork printed in popular books, magazines, and newspapers evermore true to the original. In the Golden Age of Illustration, from about 1880 to about 1920, printing, paper, and binding improved in quality; American industry perfected methods of mass production and mass distribution; and large numbers of readers had a little extra time and a little extra cash to spend on popular entertainment. The popular press was where they got much of that entertainment, especially before movies came into their own. Art schools and art organizations proliferated during those years of 1880 to 1920 (and after). Art schools turned out myriads of illustrators, cartoonists, commercial artists, letterers, typographers, and designers. And if you were good enough and worked hard enough, you might succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Your name would daily, weekly, or monthly be before the American public, and that public would clamor for your work.

The Indianapolis Star was one newspaper to recognize the success and celebrity of the nation's magazine illustrators. On April 10, 1910, the Star printed on the front page of its magazine section an article called "Money in the Face of the Modern Girl." Written by an anonymous feature writer, the article opens:
"My face is my fortune, kind sir," the model said to the artist, and straightaway he reproduced her comely features in water colors [sic] upon his illustration board, and sold the painting to the art editor of a popular magazine, thereby receiving a check which enabled him to return to his lodgings without dodging the landlord and the tailor. The painting, printed with ravishing color effects on the front cover of the magazine, created such an increased demand for the periodical that the publishers told the art editor to take all the artists's work he could get. Thereupon the face of the model likewise became the fortune of the artist.
The article might be a little cynical in tone. Its author might have regretted the commercialization of art and the newfound wealth and prominence of the lowly commercial artist. But it reveals an important historical fact, namely, that color reproductions of art, especially art depicting the modern girl of the time, helped move books and magazines. In the process, the illustrator of the popular press became a recognized and respectable figure. Some made a banker's salary, and a sidebar to the article gives us a keyhole view into the past. I have transcribed the sidebar here:

Earnings of Leading Magazine Illustrators of Country.

Harrison Fisher . . . . . . . $75,000

Howard Chandler Christy . . . $50,000
Howard Pyle . . . . . . . . . $20,000
C.D. Gibson . . . . . . . . . $15,000
James Montgomery Flagg. . . . $15,000
Maxwell Parrish . . . . . . . $15,000
Frank X. Leyendecker. . . . . $12,000
Joseph C. Leyendecker . . . . $12,000
Orson Lowell. . . . . . . . . $12,000
Jessie Willcox Smith. . . . . $12,000
Sarah Stilwell Weber. . . . . $10,000
Elizabeth Shippen Green . . . $10,000
Frank L. [sic] Schoonover . . $10,000
George Brehm. . . . . . . . . .$8,000
Lucius W. Hitchcock . . . . . .$8,000
C. Allen [sic] Gilbert. . . . .$8,000
Henry Hutt. . . . . . . . . . .$8,000
Albert Wenzell. . . . . . . . .$8,000
A.I. Keller . . . . . . . . . .$8,000
Hamilton King . . . . . . . . .$7,500
John Cecil Clay . . . . . . . .$7,500
Walter Taylor . . . . . . . . .$7,500
F.C. Yohn. . . . . . . . .  . .$7,500
H.C. Raliegh [sic]. . . . . . .$7,500
Worth Brehm . . . . . . . . . .$5,000

(The names in bold are not bold in the original. I have made them that way to set the Hoosiers apart from their fellows. More on each of them below.)

Many of the names on this list will be familiar to fans of American illustration. Those in the top ranks of earnings are also among the top ranks of illustrators as artists, and they have been subject of countless books and articles published over the last century and more. The others deserve some attention, too, though. I'd like to go through all of the artists listed here, one by one, if only briefly.

Born in Brooklyn into a family of artists, Harrison Fisher (1875 or 1877-1934) was most well known for his pictures of the modern woman, known as the Fisher Girl and the American Girl, for Cosmopolitan, The American Weekly, and The Saturday Evening Post.

Although Ohioan Howard Chandler Christy (1872-1952) drew and painted pictures of war and the machines of war, he, like Fisher, was known for his young woman, the Christy Girl, of the 1910s and after.

Howard Pyle (1853-1911) is justly called the Father of Illustration in America. For about a decade he ran a school for artists and illustrators in his native Wilmington, Delaware. His students included some of the other artists on this list. Pyle died in Florence, Italy, and lies interred in a nondescript mausoleum in the back of a small cemetery for non-Catholics on the outskirts of that city. I have been to his grave. I wish that more people would pay it a visit and pay their respects to a great American artist.

Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), a master of pen and ink, created the still-famous Gibson Girl, a hugely popular interpretation of the modern woman of the 1890s and early 1900s. The author of "Money in the Face of the Modern Girl" noted Gibson's decline in popularity as color reproduction was perfected in the early part of the twentieth century: Gibson worked almost exclusively in black and white.

Like Gibson, James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) was an Easterner and an artist of the city and its society. His rendering of Uncle Sam--a self-portrait--has become an icon of American popular art, but Flagg, like his contemporaries Fisher and Christy, excelled at drawing and painting young and attractive women.

Maxwell Parrish (1870-1966) of Philadelphia and New Hampshire was a magician of light, color, design, and technique. It would not be any overstatement to say that he stood alone among the artists on this list and of his time--no one I know of has since matched his accomplishments as a painter who seemed to have captured sunlight in his pigments. He was and still is an extraordinarily well-admired artist.

Frank X. Leyendecker (1876-1924) and Joseph C. Leyendecker (1874-1951) were German-born artists and one of two sets of brothers on this list. Frank died young. Joseph was known for his ultra-sophisticated men and women, especially for his famous Arrow Collar man.

Though born in Iowa, Orson Lowell (1871-1956) drew pictures of life in society. His style and subject matter are similar to those of Charles Dana Gibson, although his pen work is perhaps finer and more controlled, almost to a photographic effect in many of his pictures.

Philadelphian Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) was and is renowned for her sensitive and beautifully rendered images of children and their mothers. She created illustrations for advertising, magazines, and children's books. For several years, she shared a studio with other women artists, including Violet Oakley and Elizabeth Shippen Green.

Sarah Stilwell Weber (1878-1939) of Pennsylvania studied with Howard Pyle and was a friend and associate of other women artists. She, too, created advertising art and illustrations, including sixty covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954), also of Pennsylvania and also a student of Howard Pyle, illustrated books and magazines, including Harper's Magazine, St. Nicholas Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and Woman's Home Companion.

Born in New Jersey, Frank E. Schoonover (1877-1972) studied under Howard Pyle and created the same kind of heroic and adventurous illustration, of war, history, fantasy, pirates, and the American West. Schoonover taught at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis in 1927 and possibly later.

An illustration created by Frank Schoonover for the John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Note the date: this picture was made one hundred years ago.

There are three native-born Hoosiers on the list above, starting with George Brehm (1878-1966). Born in Anderson, Indiana, Brehm attended Indiana University and cartooned for The Arbutus, soon after for the Indianapolis Star. Like so many artists from the Midwest, he headed to New York City to find his fame and make his fortune. Brehm created illustrations for most of the popular slick magazines of his day, as well as for many books and advertisements, including for Coca-Cola.

"Misbehaving" by George Brehm.

There must have been something about Indiana boyhood that stuck with Hoosier artists of the early twentieth century, for they returned to that subject again and again. George Brehm and his brother Worth were only two of the artists of boyhood. Others included John T. McCutcheon, Gaar Williams, and Merrill Blosser of Freckles and His Friends fame. 

Lucius W. Hitchcock (1868-1942) is not well represented on the Internet, despite his success as an illustrator of books and magazines, including Harper's. Hitchcock also created illustrations for The Conquest of Canaan (1905) by Hoosier author Booth Tarkington. Although Hitchcock was born in Ohio and not in Indiana, I would like to show one of his pictures here to correct in some small part the fact that he has been overlooked, at least in the digital realm.

An fine illustration by Lucius W. Hitchcock from Harper's Magazine, March 1910.

Born in Connecticut, Charles Allan Gilbert (1873-1929) was an illustrator and animator, and a camouflage artist during World War I. He is most well known for his memento mori picture All Is Vanity, from 1892.

Chicagoan Henry Hutt (1875-1950) began working as a professional artist when he was still a teenager. He created all kinds of illustration but was especially popular for his depictions of young women.

Born in Detroit, Albert Wenzell (1864-1917) studied art in Germany and France but was in no way an art snob. He wrote:
It seems to me, after many years spent abroad, with the consequent opportunity for comparison, that American art has advanced amazingly, further than is generally appreciated at home or abroad. The average American, for instance, admires the drawing of American girls by American Artists. But he rarely goes abroad to have his portrait painted.
American artists excel, it seems to me, in color. There are half a dozen men here now--I don't refer to several well known American artists living abroad—no, there are New York men whose work is not familiar, but whose talent is the first order. It is most unfortunate that our home talent is not more appreciated and encouraged. I have little sympathy with the idea that an artist must live abroad in some so-called art centre. If a man be an artist it makes little difference where he lives. (1)
New Yorker Arthur I. Keller (1867-1924) was a painter and an illustrator of many books of the Golden Age.

Hamilton King (1871-1941) created not one type of girl but two, his Coca-Cola Girl and his Hamilton King Girl for Turkish Trophies Cigarettes. He worked in pastel for many of his illustrations. His clients included Theatre Magazine.

John Cecil Clay (1875-1930) hailed from West Virginia. Like so many of his contemporaries, he drew lots of young, attractive women. His illustrations appeared in The Century Magazine, Good HousekeepingFrank Leslie's Popular Monthly, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and Good Housekeeping.

Walter Taylor (1860-1943) was the oldest artist on the list above and the only Briton. I'm not sure why he would be included in a list of "Leading Magazine Illustrators of Country."

Renowned for his historical illustrations, Frederick Coffay Yohn (1875-1933) got his start in his native city working for the Indianapolis News in the 1890s. By the turn of the century, he was in New York City and creating illustrations for leading magazines, especially Scribner's. His work has been reproduced on at least two U.S. postage stamps.

An illustration by F.C. Yohn from The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in an edition of 1926.

Early in his career, Yohn specialized in historical scenes and scenes of war and action, but he was equally good at more sedate tableaux, such as in this illustration. I don't know the source or the date, but I suspect this is from the period 1895-1910, judging from the artist's technique.

"You Can't Do That!" by Yohn, from Scribner's, August 1914, the month and year in which the Great War began. If you think steampunk is something new, think again: artists and authors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were busy at this kind of thing long before any of us were born. For more on Yohn, go to the following URL:


Born in Oregon, Henry Patrick Raleigh (1880-1944) was the only Westerner on this list. He was an extremely prolific and popular artist, illustrating, for example, more than 500 stories in The Saturday Evening Post. Even during the Great Depression, he was making more than $100,000 a year.

Worth Brehm (1883-1928) was the younger brother of George Brehm and like him was born in Anderson. Although he was an accomplished colorist, Brehm often worked in charcoal. He specialized in drawings of children, including for the Penrod stories of Booth Tarkington, which appeared in Cosmopolitan.

Another bit of misbehavior in the classroom, this time by Worth Brehm.

Finally, an illustration by Worth Brehm from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy New Year!

Note
(1)  Quoted on the website of the Society of Illustrators, here.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mary B. Grubb (1867-1941)

Mary B. Grubb was born on November 5, 1867, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, to Joseph and Emily "Emma" (Funk) Grubb. By her descent from Revolutionary War veterans Philip Kinder (Ginder) and Alexander Ross--and by her successful application--Mary was one of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She taught in public schools in Crawfordsville and in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was also the Louisiana state supervisor of drawing. Mary seems to have alternated between Louisiana and Indiana early in her career, but from 1920 until her death in 1941, she called Crawfordsville, the Athens of Indiana, home.

In addition to being a classroom teacher, Mary B. Grubb wrote and illustrated books of instruction and books for children. These included:
  • The Industrial Primary Reader by Mary B. Grubb and Frances Lilian Taylor (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1912)
  • When Mother Lets Us Make Gifts by Mary B. Grubb with illustrations by the author (New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1914)
  • Our Alphabet of Toys by Mary B. Grubb, illustrated by Carolyn S. Ashbrook (Harter, 1932)
When Mother Lets Us Make Gifts was part of a series of When Mother Lets Us titles published by Moffat, Yard and Company. The series also included a book by Stella G.S. Perry, about whom I have written on my blog Tellers of Weird Tales. Click here for the link

Mary B. Grubb worked as a freelance illustrator for many years and won many prizes at the Indiana State Fair for her leatherwork, basketry, needlepoint, embroidery, and other crafts. She was also a fine artist. Mary B. Grubb died on August 18, 1941, at age seventy-three and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Crawfordsville.

Our Alphabet of Toys (1932), with verses by Mary B. Grubb and pictures by Carolyn S. Ashbrook, also an Indiana artist and subject for another day.

An illustration from When Mother Lets Us Make Gifts by Mary B. Grubb (1914). (The title page of the book gives the author's name as Mary E. Grubb.) This illustration is not by Mary B. Grubb (the picture is initialed S.A.E.I.) . . . 

Instead for her book, Mary created a series of simple pictures for children to copy or use, including these Christmas designs.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Julia Boyd (1896-1938)

Fashion designer and commercial artist Julia K. Boyd was born on May 14, 1892, in Cambridge City, Indiana. Her parents were Dr. Horace B. Boyd and Carrie (Swearer) Boyd. Her family also included two sisters and two brothers: Oliver, Nellie M., Louise Belle, and Olin Boyd. Though Julia died young, only her mother and her younger brother Olin survived her.

Julia Boyd began designing fashions for her dolls and those of her friends when she was five years old. After graduating from Lincoln High School in her native city in 1910, she studied fashion design at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and at Columbia University. In 1920, she was working in Cambridge City as a commercial artist. By 1929, Julia was in Indianapolis, where she worked for the William H. Block Company, a department store known for its women's fashions and for its daily newspaper spreads advertising those fashions.

Julia Boyd spent seven years traveling the United States and sketching the clothing worn by women in society. She interpreted fashion for everyday women, though, insisting that the patterns made from her drawings be "easy to follow [and] interesting to work with." (1) Her fashion drawings and articles were syndicated nationally by Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) under the title Today's Pattern and sometimes under the subtitle "Julia Boyd Patterns." Readers of the feature could order patterns directly from Julia's own workshop in New York City.

Julia Boyd enjoyed an active life of work, travel, and recreation. She liked riding, playing golf, and swimming. For many years, she lived in New York City with her mother. Sadly, all of that came to an end with her death, from a brain tumor, on September 26, 1938, in a New York hospital. She was only forty-six years old. Julia Boyd was buried in the city of her birth.

Note
(1) Quoted in "Whets Women's Interest in Style" by Marion Young in St. Louis Star-Times, July 13, 1934, page 11. The photograph below is from the same article.






Backdated to October 15, 2017
Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, September 18, 2017

George W. Spayth (1892-1969)

Photographer, cartoonist, reporter, editor, and publisher George William Spayth was born on January 28, 1892, in New Fostoria or North Baltimore, Ohio. His parents were Frank M. and Hattie (Landon) Spayth. He had one brother, Franklin J. Spayth. George Spayth quit school to help support his family and had only an eighth-grade education. In 1900, the family was in Henry, Ohio, and in 1910 in Lima. By then Spayth's mother had remarried.

George Spayth got his first newspaper job in 1913 as a cub reporter in Janesville, Wisconsin. Over the years, he would work for the Milwaukee News, Washington TimesWashington Herald, Galveston News, Houston Chronicle, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Reading Times, and Camden Courier-Post. In 1917, he was in Washington, D.C., and working as an artist out of the Kenois Building. By 1920, he was in the area of Galveston and Houston, Texas. He started as an editorial cartoonist at the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal-Gazette in 1920. When he was a child, he had gone on a train ride with his mother and had passed through Fort Wayne. It was the first big city he had ever seen. Spayth spent the first half of the 1920s there, not far from his home in northwestern Ohio.

In addition to drawing cartoons for the Journal-Gazette, Spayth gave chalk talks in and around Fort Wayne and taught commercial art at the Knights of Columbus Evening School in his adopted city. By 1928, he was in Pennsylvania, where he worked for the Reading Times. His historical-educational comic strip Berks History in Pictures began appearing in the  Times on September 17, 1928. The initial plan was for the strip to cover Berks County history up to the present in 300 installments.

Spayth was still in Reading in 1930, but by 1932, he had moved further east, to Dunellen, New Jersey. He served as editor of The Chronicle of Dunellen before establishing his own newspaper business. From the 1930s until he sold his business in 1967, Spayth published what were called the Spayth Weeklies--The Weekly Call, The Piscataway Chronicle, The Middlesex Mirror, and The Store News--all under his company name of The County Press, Inc.

As he was nearing the end of his newspaper career, Spayth self-published a book, It Was Fun the Hard Way: The Autobiography of a Small Town Editor (1964). He was also an inventor whose brainchildren included a bookmark that automatically kept its place should the reader fall asleep while reading and a device for straightening parking meters. He was married twice, first to Annis L. (Salsbury) Spayth (1882-1957), also a journalist, second to Elizabeth (Crosswell) Spayth. His children by his first wife were Lillian June, Sue, and Joseph. You can find Sue Spayth Riley on the Internet.

George W. Spayth died August 21, 1969, at his home in Dunellen, New Jersey. He was seventy-seven years old.

An editorial cartoon by George W. Spayth from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, December 4, 1923.

What I believe are the first five installments of Berks History in Pictures by George W. Spayth, from the Reading Times, September 26, 1928. In his obituary, Spayth was described as a syndicated cartoonist, but his name does not appear in Allan Holtz's comprehensive American Newspaper Comics (2012). It may be that Berks History in Pictures was syndicated locally, and that might account for the artist's credit as a syndicated cartoonist. It may be also that Spayth's editorial cartoons were syndicated. In any case, his five years or so in Fort Wayne qualify George W. Spayth as a Hoosier cartoonist. We can also add his name to the list of Hoosiers who drew historical, informational, or factual comic strips, panels, or features.

Backdated to September 18, 2017.
Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Art and Artists of Indiana Digital Collection at the Indiana Historical Society

The Indiana Historical Society has announced the creation of its Art and Artists of Indiana Digital Collection. The emphasis in the collection is on the artists of the Hoosier Group, which included T.C. Steele, William Forsyth, Otto Stark, J. Ottis Adams, and Richard B. Gruelle. The collection includes artwork, photographs, correspondence, and publications. You can access it on line at this link:

http://images.indianahistory.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16797coll51

A drawing by William Forsyth from the booklet Art Exhibit of the Hoosier Colony in München, Illustrated by the Bohe Club. The booklet is in the digital collection of the Indiana Historical Society. The members of the Bohe Club (short for Bohemian) included Forsyth, Frederick A. Hetherington, Thomas E. Hibben, C.L. McDonald, and Charles A. Nicolai. Works by T.C. Steele are also illustrated in the booklet. (The date of publication was 1885.)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Summertime Picture from Johnny Gruelle

Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938) was born in Arcola, Illinois, but he grew up in Indianapolis, just east of the downtown area and not far from the Lockerbie Square neighborhood where James Whitcomb Riley lived. Gruelle's father, the artist Richard Buckner Gruelle (1851-1914), was friends with Riley (1849-1916). Known as the Hoosier Poet, Riley was famed for his poems of childhood and life in small-town Indiana, including "Little Orphant Annie" and "The Raggedy Man." The poem "Little Orphant Annie" lent its name to Harold Gray's long-running comic strip, Little Orphan Annie. (Like Johnny Gruelle, Gray was born in Illinois but lived in Indiana. He graduated from Purdue University in 1917.) Some years before that, Johnny Gruelle and his family took inspiration from "The Raggedy Man" and named their famous dolls, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, after Riley's poem.

The Gruelle family didn't live far from downtown Indianapolis, yet their neighborhood was rural, or at most suburban in character. I suspect the Gruelle children would have gone berry-picking when they were young. It's that time of year now, when the black raspberries, then the blackberries, ripen and are ready to pick. Berry-picking is the subject of the following picture and poem, the picture by Gruelle, the poem by Ethel Fairmont (1881-1977), from her book Rhymes for Kindly Children (Wise-Parslow, 1937). You can read more about Ethel Fairmont at the website of Nancy S. Weyant, here.

Some of the illustrator's pictures for Ethel's book are a little too British, but that's okay, for Johnny Gruelle was all American and a Hoosier at that. I should point out that today, July 22, 2017, is the anniversary of the death of James Whitcomb Riley. He died one hundred and one years ago, in the centennial year of the state in which he was born.



Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, June 1, 2017

John Gannam (1905-1965)

I have just one piece of evidence that illustrator John Gannam was an Indiana artist. From the book Forty Illustrators and How They Work by Ernest W. Watson, et al. (1946):
John Gannam's first art hero was an Indianapolis blacksmith. This swarthy "primitive" dipped brushes into cans of ordinary house paint and, stroke by stroke on the surface of an ordinary wood panel, created the image of a clipper ship under full sail. In the spell of this miracle the ten-year-old lad went home and tried to reproduce the smithy's masterpiece. The seed had been planted. (p. 130)
So unless he was on his own at age ten, John Gannam was a Hoosier . . .

 . . . but not by birth. That happy event occurred on May 24, 1905, in Lebanon--not the Indiana city but the Middle Eastern country, then part of the Ottoman Empire. (1) His birth name was Fouzi Hanna Boughanam, and he was the son of Hanna Ibrahim Boughanam (1873-ca. 1919) and Najla Boughanam (1883-?). On October 11, 1909, at age four, Gannam arrived in New York City with his mother. Coming from Turkey by way of Le Havre, they disembarked from the ship La Gascogne, perhaps with a destination in mind but giving no address. If Gannam lived in Indianapolis as a young boy, he was, by his teen years, in Chicago. The death of his father when Gannam was fourteen forced him into the role of breadwinner for his family. He worked at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, also as an errand boy, elevator operator, and employee in a machine shop. Interested in art since childhood, Gannam finally landed a job in an engraving firm at age eighteen. Although he was only a messenger boy, as Ernest Watson pointed out in his profile of 1946, "he was in the presence of art, and by hanging around nights he could learn much about lettering, drawing and the way artists work." (p. 130) Work for an illustration studio and a fashion studio, along with studies at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, followed.

In 1926, Gannam went to Detroit with his portfolio in hand and began working for the studio of Gray, Garfield & Ladriere. (2) He spent four years in Detroit working in black and white, mostly in the drybrush technique. In 1930, he moved further east, to the artist's Mecca of New York City, and began selling illustrations to leading magazines, including Collier'sCosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, and Woman's Home Companion. He also created advertising art for the Air Transport Association, Ipana, Pacific Mills, St. Mary's Blankets, and other clients. Gannam specialized in depicting women and children in interior scenes and worked extensively in watercolor. Walt Reed, a historian of illustration in America, called him "a totally absorbed, dedicated artist" and noted: "To his fellow illustrators, each new painting by Gannam was an inspiring event."

John Gannam married Dorothy F. Merwin on August 30, 1936. They had at least one child, John Gannam, Jr., but were later divorced. John Gannam the elder became a naturalized citizen on February 18, 1957, in New York City. He moved from that city to Newtown, Connecticut, in about 1961. A member of the American Artists' Professional League, National Academy of Art, National Institute of Art and Design, Society of Illustrators, and Watercolor Society of America, he was named to the faculty and board of the Danbury Academy of Arts shortly before his death, which came on January 26, 1965, in a convalescent home in Danbury, Connecticut. He was fifty-nine years old. (Some sources say fifty-seven.) Surviving him were his son, John Gannam, Jr., and his brothers, Fred Gannam, Albert Gannam, and Edward Gannam, all of Chicago. Gannam was buried at New Saint Peter Cemetery in Danbury. In 1981, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Illustrators. You can see a very full gallery of art by John Gannam at the website American Gallery: Greatest American Painters, here.

Notes
(1) The town of his birth may have been Zahlé. The record of his arrival in the United States gave his nationality as Syrian.
(2) Gannam may have worked at Gray, Garfield & Ladriere at about the same time as Norwegian-born artist Arild Weborg (1900-1963).

Further Reading
  • Forty Illustrators and How They Work by Ernest W. Watson, et al. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1946).
  • A Complete Guide to Drawing, Illustration, Cartooning, and Painting by Gene Byrnes (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948).
  • The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000 by Walt Reed (New York: The Society of Illustrators, 2001).

A watercolor illustration by John Gannam for Good Housekeeping magazine. The subject matter may have reminded the artist of his homeland in the Levant.

Another woman in pink, though in a far different situation.

John Gannam in his studio, from Forty Illustrators and How They Work.

Update (June 30, 2017): A watercolor drawing by John Gannam from Good Housekeeping, June 1942, illustrating part one of the novel Do You Take These Women? by Viña Delmar. Thanks to Troy for providing the original.

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)

Today's entry is eccentric. In its spinning and turning, it will catch a renowned artist, poet, and critic; a pop singer who cast herself as a witch; an actress who played a princess; two worldwide pop-cultural phenomena; a song about dreams; and the dreams themselves of countless young people--dreams of quest and conflict and a chance at becoming a hero in a battle that never ends. Among those who dream and who have dreamed were four boys who, on a day forty years ago, sat in a darkened theater in Indianapolis, eagerly awaiting the start of a movie that would prove unlike any before it, even if it was drawn from tales as old as storytelling. My older brother had seen the movie before. My younger brother, his friend Tom, and I had not, but we were excited in a way that only children can be excited to see a movie about which we had heard so much. Not long before that day at the Eastwood--a theater now laid low by the passage of time--the movie had opened across the country and had almost instantly become a sensation beyond any moviegoing experience before it. Nothing before and nothing after--not even Jaws from two summers before--would match what it became in the year and more following its release. It has since grown into a franchise, moreover, a worldwide phenomenon. The movie was of course Star Wars. It came out forty years ago today, on May 25, 1977.

Strange details stick in your head. I remember that as we waited to see Star Wars, a song played in the theater. (Those were the days before commercials were shown before the movie begins.) The song was "Dreams," by Fleetwood Mac, from the album Rumours. I didn't know it at the time, but Rumours was released on February 4, 1977, not long before Star Wars came out. It was a sensation, too, and became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. "Dreams" reached number one on the pop-music charts on June 18, 1977, probably around the time the four of us went to see Star Wars. (Our seeing it was an early birthday present from my parents to my younger brother.) Another thing I probably didn't know at the time: "Dreams" was sung by Stevie Nicks.

Now comes the strange part--strange, then somewhat plausible, at least in my view. The heroine of Star Wars was of course Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher, who was only nineteen years old when filming began on Star Wars in March 1976--nineteen and completely convincing not only as a princess but also as an outer-space senator. Although she had been in movies before, Carrie Fisher became a household name with Star Wars. Millions mourned her death this past year. She was loved as few people in popular culture are truly loved. Stevie Nicks is also loved that way, by millions the world over. She who sang "Dreams" for us has, strangely enough, been named as a possible replacement for Carrie Fisher. This isn't just some lone fanboy's dream: it's actually a thing on the Internet. As soon as I heard about it, I thought That might actually work. Whereas some people seem to be saying that Stevie Nicks should just be a stand-in or a body double for Carrie Fisher, I think she could actually be Princess Leia. No one I can think of could fill the role, but Stevie is loved like Carrie was loved, and she has a similar stature, not just physically but also in pop-cultural terms. The pop culture of the 1970s is falling into pieces with age as all things do--sadly, neither Linda Ronstadt nor Steve Perry can sing anymore--but if you want to hold it up for at least a little longer, I say Why not? If she can act and if the deal can be swung, why shouldn't we have someone new in Stevie Nicks to play the forty-year-old part of Princess Leia? I realize that it's only a fantasy--a dream--to think that way, but what else is all of this but a dream and a fantasy?


So what does any of this have to do with Indiana and its artists? Well, as any Star Wars fan ought to know, Ralph McQuarrie (1929-2012), the conceptual artist behind the film and the franchise, was born in Gary, Indiana. He worked with director and screenwriter George Lucas as early as the spring of 1975, two years before the movie was released. He would go on to work on other films in the series. I would like to go beyond Ralph McQuarrie, though, and write about another Indiana artist who had nothing (or almost nothing) to do with Star Wars but by the turns of an eccentric idea can be caught in a discussion of the movie and its related phenomena.

A painting by Indiana illustrator Ralph McQuarrie for The Empire Strikes Back (1980). 

Kenneth Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905, in South Bend, Indiana. A home-schooled prodigy, then a teenaged orphan, he moved to Chicago to live with his aunt around 1919 or so. Although he is now known as a poet and critic, Rexroth studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in his youth. I would be surprised to find that any of his artwork survives. On the other hand, maybe there are drawings by Kenneth Rexroth hiding among his papers, wherever they might be housed.

Rexroth had a varied career as a traveler, friend, husband, lover, critic, essayist, poet, author, translator, activist, and associate of many famous people, including Beat Poets and other literary figures in San Francisco. You can read about him on the Internet and in those ancient artifacts known as "books." I'll note only that Kenneth Rexroth died in Santa Barbara, California, on June 6, 1982, at age seventy-six.

"Dorothy," a portrait by Andrée Dutcher (1902-1940), first wife of Kenneth Rexroth. 

Now comes a part about which I'm not sure, followed by some thoughts that I hope will stand on their own, even if I'm wrong about this connection to Kenneth Rexroth. And here is that connection, if it really is a connection: a long time ago, I read that there are only two kinds of stories, namely, the Iliad and the Odyssey. I think the quote was attributed to Kenneth Rexroth, but I can't be sure. As happens too often, when you lose a quote, it's hard to find again, even in this age of the Internet. But I have kept that thought in my head and have applied it to the analysis of books and movies over the years. It seems to hold up pretty well. Boiled down even further, the idea is that every story is either of a conflict--the Iliad--or of a quest or journey--the Odyssey. I would like to look into that idea in relation to two high-powered, pop-cultural franchises.

The cover of Poetry Readings in the Cellar (Fantasy, 1958), a spoken-word record with Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I wrote that there is no connection between Rexroth and Star Wars. Well, that's if you stop too soon. If you don't stop too soon, you'll learn that Lawrence Ferlinghetti (b. 1919) was friends with Erik Bauersfeld (1922-2016), voice of Admiral Ackbar and Bib Fortuna in the Star Wars movies.

Before Star Wars, there was Star Trek. Since the former came out in 1977, the two have lived side by side. One is fantasy. It appeals or is meant to appeal especially to children. The other is science fiction, though not always of the highest order. It appeals to children but also to adults, as the best entertainment of the 1960s and '70s did. I'm sure there is some overlap in the fandom associated with each, but the stereotype is that there are just two kinds of people: Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans. I'm not sure what these fans think of each other. If you fall back on stereotypes, you might say that Star Wars fans think that Star Trek is boring and that Star Trek fans think Star Wars is childish and one-dimensional. But those are stereotypes. Anyway, consider their titles: Star Wars. Star Trek. Take away the word Star and you're left with what? Wars--a conflict, the story told in the Iliad. Trek--a quest or journey, the story told in the Odyssey. There are wars in Star Trek and quests in Star Wars, but each is essentially of its own type. (With that in mind, might Princess Leia be Helen of Troy and the Millennium Falcon the Trojan Horse?) 

So just by their titles, these two franchises bear out the idea I have attributed here to Kenneth Rexroth. If there are only two kinds of stories, each must cover a lot of ground. The possibilities for storytelling would seem vast. However, there are limits in each. War eventually ceases. The journey finally reaches its end. Wars and journeys without end can only mean misery and despair. So what does that mean for a pop-cultural franchise? I saw part of the results in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). The moviemakers seem to have been recreating Star Wars for a new generation. That's fine. Star Wars is after all a story for children. Why shouldn't children now have the same chance we had--we four and millions more like us--in 1977 for an exciting fantasy of rushing from one star system to another towards a climactic battle against an evil empire?

But there's a crack in the Star Wars story. I say it as a fan, but there's a crack, for in Star Wars, there must always be an Empire and there must always be a Rebellion. The Star Wars universe is vast and the possibilities for storytelling are theoretically endless, but the main action in every movie is the same: Imperial forces against Rebels, Sith against Jedi, the Dark Side against the Force. Without that conflict, Star Wars may well amount to nothing. So the war goes on, movie after movie, decade after decade, all with variations on a simple theme: the Empire or its equivalent always builds a big, impenetrable fortress and the Rebels or their equivalents always penetrate it and destroy it, often with what is seemingly the most powerful weapon in the universe, the X-wing fighter. Maybe Star Wars: The Force Awakens recapitulated the original trilogy not so much for a new generation of moviegoers but because it's the only story that can be told in the Star Wars universe. And maybe Darth Vader returned in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) because of a further limitation: maybe only he makes a truly compelling villain and a suitable embodiment of the spirit of the Empire. One thing is for sure: he beats the heck out of his weak little tantrum-throwing emo grandson.

In Star Trek, on the other hand, there are always new horizons of outer space where no man has gone before. Storytelling in the Star Trek universe is far less limited than in the Star Wars universe if only because it isn't framed and delineated by war, which has, significantly, a classic narrative structure. There is always a Federation and the starships of the Federation, but beyond that, only the writer's imagination places bounds upon what stories might be told. Star Trek, as Kenneth Rexroth wrote of the Odyssey, "is a collection of adventures, of little melodramas." There are limitations even here, though. One is that in the Star Trek universe, there isn't the classic narrative structure as in a story of war. The story just goes on and on, with all parts being equal to all other parts. There isn't any growth or development in the characters. They simply live out their lives in stasis, returned at the beginning of each episode to where they were at the beginning of the last episode, despite anything that might have happened in between. Captain Kirk might have great adventures, but he doesn't grow. Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, might grow (in addition to being a story of conflict, Star Wars can be considered a Bildungsroman), but he can never have peace in a universe that must always be at war.

So which limitation is worse? I can't say. A better way might be to look at possibilities rather than limitations. Star Wars and Star Trek have both told great stories. When they have not told great stories, it hasn't been because of the limitations of their respective types. And I would say that neither franchise has reached the bounds of possibility. There are still more stories to tell, and it's nice to think that forty years from now there will still be excited children waiting in the dark, waiting for the words Space: the final frontier . . . or A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .

Copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley
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