STUDENT PRESENTATIONS ON AMERICAN ILLUSTRATORS

What do Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the popular magazine Harper’s Bazar, and Karl Marx’ Capital all have in common?

   

How about duo-tone illustrations of laborers in colonial Pennsylvania and World War II-era books encouraging children to purchase saving stamps and to participate in scrap drives? Stumped?

 

All of these items feature artwork by prominent American artists well-represented in the Wolfsonian library. And, all of these materials were selected, displayed, and discussed in oral presentations made this past Friday and Saturday by Florida International University students enrolled in Professor Bernadine Heller-Greenman’s American Art class.

Rachel Armstrong decided to focus on Chaucer’s medieval masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales—or rather, on the 1930s American edition of the work illustrated by Rockwell Kent (1882-1971). Unapologetically left-leaning in his politics, Kent’s illustrations reflected his lifelong commitment to rendering humble, working class figures with great sympathy and sensitivity.

 

GIFT MADE BY IDEAL GLADSTONE IN MEMORY OF HER HUSBAND, JOHN

Of course, Kent’s artistic vision was also deeply influenced by transcendentalist thought and by his wilderness excursions in Newfoundland, Alaska, Tierra del Fuego, and Greenland. Our library holds a significant body of some of his published memoirs and the literary classics he illustrated.

GIFT MADE BY IDEAL GLADSTONE IN MEMORY OF HER HUSBAND, JOHN

Another of the students, Lissette Martinez, was drawn to the work of William H. Bradley (1868-1962), a commercial artist and book designer largely credited with popularizing Art Nouveau in America. The Wolfsonian library holds a very large collection of Bradley book-bindings, clippings, advertisements, and other printed ephemera. Much of Bill Bradley’s early artwork has been described as imitative of the work of British artist, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872-1898).

  

Ultimately, however, he forged his own unique style and became a prolific illustrator and one of the nation’s most popular graphic artists. Bradley’s illustrations graced the covers of some of the most important periodicals circulating in the United States at the turn of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

 

Triana Carmenate, another student in the class, made her presentation on the political artwork of Hugo Gellert (1892-1985). As a Communist Party (CPUSA) activist, Gellert imbued all of his artwork with the goal of promoting a Socialist America. Gellert’s illustrated edition of Marx’s Das Kapital transformed the original voluminous tome on economic theory into a picture book whose message would be accessible to an even semi-literate audience.

The Wolfsonian holds an incredible range of illustrated books, periodical covers, dust jackets, and other items designed by this champion of the working class, including an elephant portfolio of color silkscreen prints from the era of the Second World War celebrating the U.S-Soviet wartime alliance.

GIFT MADE BY ELINOR J. BRECHER IN MEMORY OF HER GRANDFATHER, LEO BRECHER

Another student, Asiel Sepulveda honed in on a set of duo-tone illustrations made by Henry C. Pitz (1895-1976). Pitz, a Pennsylvania native of German heritage, attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and became a prominent local artist and art educator. The prints in our library appear to have been made in the late 1930s or early 1940s and celebrate the work of skilled colonial artisans and laborers alike.

 

Finally, Nicole Espaillat decided to investigate and report on some of the children’s propaganda books in the library collection, including works by Monro Leaf and Inez Hogan. Thanks to a generous donation by Pamela K. Harer, the Wolfsonian library holds a significant collection of children’s propaganda books. Monro Leaf wrote and illustrated My Book to Help America and A War-Time Handbook for Young Americans to let even the youngest of citizens know that they could play an important part in time of war.

 

GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER

In a similar vein, Inez Hogan (1895-1973) penned two books in our collection during the Second World War. One, Nicodemus Helps Uncle Sam, was directed at African-American children encouraging them to participate in scrap drives and to buy and to fill up a war savings stamp booklet included in the pocket of the book.

 

GIFT OF PAMELA K. HARER

The other, Listen Hitler! The Gremlins Are Coming, told the story of the Gremlins. Realizing that their pranks were playing havoc with the Allied war effort, their leader, Snoopy, decided in the interests of protecting freedom to instead direct their mischief against the Axis powers.

~ by "The Chief" on April 20, 2011.

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