By AUDREY FISCHER and SHERYL CANNADY
The Library of Congress has acquired 36,000 original political cartoons, comic strips, animation cels and illustrators' drawings from the collection of award-winning political cartoonist J. Arthur Wood Jr. The acquisition of this collection—the largest private collection of its kind—more than doubles the Library's existing holdings of cartoon art.
"I would like to hale, celebrate and introduce this remarkable collector," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington at a briefing for the press held on Aug. 26 in the Jefferson Building's Whittall Pavilion. "Built over the course of 60 years and encompassing three centuries of work, it is a true ‘Gift to the Nation' that will engage researchers for generations to come."
A resident of Washington, D.C., Wood worked at the Library of Congress as a hatrack attendant and elevator operator from 1942 to 1943 when he was 16 years old so that he could have easy access to the collections to study its holdings in cartoon and caricature. At the suggestion of then Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish, Wood illustrated "LC and You," a guide for visitors, during his brief tenure.
During World War II, Wood served in the Navy as a military cartoonist and further developed his skills as a student at Washington and Lee University and at the Washington Star. After graduation he became the first political cartoonist at the Richmond News Leader from 1950 to 1956. From 1956 to 1965, Wood was chief editorial cartoonist at the Pittsburgh Press and its three magazines. During this period, his cartoons were regularly carried by The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report and other publications. He later worked for the U.S. Independent Telephone Association, where he edited weekly publications and served as cartoonist for several magazines and The MacNeil/Lehrer Report on PBS.
"I have loved the Library of Congress for many years," said Wood, following Billington's introduction. "I chose to work here to be closer to the collections. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to be asked to illustrate the guide."
In offering his collection to the Library, Wood wrote, "A large part of my collection, [which] resulted from knowing the artists personally, were gifts to me. These [are] given as an outright contribution."
The balance of the acquisition was made possible in part by a generous contribution from H. Fred Krimendahl II, a member of the Madison Council, the Library's private-sector advisory group. The portion of the collection, valued at more than $30 million, that the Library purchased for $950,000 includes only those items that Wood bought to expand the collection, such as animation art and illustrators' drawings.
Throughout his long career, Wood collected the works of his leading American and European colleagues. He made a concerted effort to acquire their earliest works as well as their later, more polished efforts, in order to show the change over time. He noted that friend and colleague Rube Goldberg gave him his first drawing to appear in print. Other cartoonists followed suit.
"Like the title of the movie starring Jimmy Stewart, it has been ‘a wonderful life,'" said Wood. "I have been able to do what I like to do, and I have met nearly all of my peers. These artists will be overjoyed to have their work displayed along with that of Herblock, Pat Oliphant and Bob Hope," said Wood, in reference to some of the Library's other notable collections.
During his professional life, Wood worked diligently to establish a museum or gallery to preserve and showcase his collection. He achieved his goal in 1995 with the opening of the National Gallery of Caricature and Cartoon Art in downtown Washington, D.C., but the gallery closed in 1998 due to a lack of sustained funding. Undeterred, Wood turned to the Library of Congress, to preserve and present his collection.
This remarkable collection encompasses a comprehensive array of original historical political cartoons, caricatures, comic strips, humor cartoons, illustrations and animation cels. The Art Wood Collection contains numerous "firsts," "earliests" and "one-of-a-kind" pieces, many of which have been included in major museum exhibitions and historical publications. The following are among the highlights of the collection.
- Important cels and drawings from pioneer animation films, including Winsor McCay's early masterpiece "Gertie the Dinosaur" (1914), the first commercially successful animated film; and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937), Walt Disney's groundbreaking first full-length animated feature. Both have been included in the National Film Registry maintained by the Library of Congress.
- Thousands of drawings that represent the origins and development of American newspaper cartooning, including rare drawings by Richard Outcault of "The Yellow Kid," the first great comic strip character; an extremely rare 1921 drawing of "Olive Oyl" by Popeye creator Elzie Segar (who didn't create Popeye until 1931); a definitive caricature of William Randolph Hearst by Homer Davenport, the first modern political cartoonist; and superlative collections of such famous strips as Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo," George McManus' "Bringing Up Father," George Herriman's "Krazy Kat," Chic Young's "Blondie," Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant," Milt Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates" and Charles Schulz's "Peanuts."
- Works by the most influential European masters of graphic art, including William Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson, George Cruikshank, Honoré Daumier, Heinrich Kley and Henri Toulouse Lautrec.
- Numerous drawings by celebrated artists of America's "golden age of illustration" (1880-1920s) such as Howard Pyle, James Montgomery Flagg, Edwin Abbey and Dean Cornwell, among others.
- Hundreds of works documenting the largely unexamined contributions by such pioneering women illustrators as Katherine Pyle, Rose O'Neill and Nell Brinkley.
- Landmark works by the best American editorial artists of the past two centuries, including Thomas Nast, John McCutcheon, Art Young, Arthur Szyk, "Ding" Darling, Herb Block and most of the Pulitzer Prize-winners for editorial cartooning.
In spring 2005 the Library of Congress will present an exhibition and accompanying illustrated catalog of selected works drawn from the Art Wood Collection. More information about this acquisition as well as the Library's additional holdings of original cartoon art is available through the Swann Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon Web site at www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann.
Audrey Fischer and Sheryl Cannady are public affairs specialists in the Public Affairs Office.