"Cartoon America: Highlights from the Art Wood Collection of Cartoon and Caricature" opened in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress' Thomas Jefferson Building on Nov. 2 and will remain on view through Feb. 24, 2007, and online at www.loc.gov/exhibits/cartoonamerica/. The exhibition celebrates the Library's major acquisition of over 36,000 original cartoon art drawings collected by J. Arthur Wood. Curators Sara W. Duke and Martha H. Kennedy selected for display 102 examples of the best works of art, embracing all major genres represented in the collection, including political cartooning, animation, comic strips, humorous cartoons, illustration and caricature.
By SARA W. DUKE and MARTHA H. KENNEDY
Charlie Brown sits on a school bench, pining to be noticed by the little red-haired girl. The recurring theme of his unrequited love will strike a chord with many visitors who grew up reading Charles Schulz's "Peanuts," one of the most popular comic strips of all time. Even devotees of Chic Young's "Blondie" comic strip might not know that the series predates Blondie's marriage to Dagwood Bumstead. One strip depicts Dagwood, still a bachelor, longing for Blondie while she attempts to reach him by telegram.
J. Arthur Wood, an award-winning cartoonist in his own right, began collecting these and other original drawings at the age of 12. Over a period of 60 years he contacted and befriended numerous older masters of cartoon art forms, as well as leading contemporary creators in the field. He obtained selections of their work primarily by gift, though he purchased some works. His collection came to the Library through a gift-purchase agreement made possible in part by a generous contribution from H. Fred Krimendahl II, a member of the Library's Madison Council; funds provided by American taxpayers; and J. Arthur Wood, Jr.'s own generosity. On receiving the collection in 2003, Librarian of Congress James Billington proclaimed it "a gift to the nation."
Wood's collection of cartoon and caricature spans the history of the newspaper comic strip, from Richard F. Outcault's "Yellow Kid" (1895) to Bill Griffith's contemporary "Zippy the Pinhead." The collection reflects the rich variety of the genre. Examples of strips with family-related themes range from George McManus' "Bringing up Father" to Lynn Johnston's "For Better or for Worse." Fans of the adventure strip will revel in the heroism of Terry from Milt Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates" and the antics of Wash Tubbs in Roy Crane's comic strip of the same name.
Works of art selected for the Library's exhibition mirror Wood's primary collecting interests and strengths, presenting the collector as an unusually discerning and knowledgeable connoisseur of popular graphic art. The collection and exhibition do not represent a complete history of cartooning in America, but the exhibited objects represent stellar examples from Wood's remarkable collection, all of which underscore the vitality of an innovative, indigenous art form. The depth of holdings in political cartoons and comic strips and specific landmark pieces in all major genres make this collection distinctive and unparalleled. It stands out as a jewel among the Library's special collections, illuminating the history of American cartoon art forms and greatly enhancing the national library's superb holdings of cartoon art.
Selections from the broad range of original illustration art in Wood's collection will transport young viewers and their parents to vibrant, imaginary worlds. Walt Disney's Dumbo sits in his tub joyfully spouting water, his exuberant image certain to make people smile. Wood is a big fan of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," and his collection reflects his love of this early classic animated feature. For example, a luscious color-presentation drawing of all seven dwarfs in their traditional poses will fill a panel of the exhibition. Vivid animation cels of Snow White and Mickey Mouse will enchant both children and adults who grew up watching these beloved Disney characters. Other master drawings of animation art depict Betty Boop and Popeye from Max Fleischer Studios, as well as Tom and Jerry, the famous cat-and-mouse duo created by the Hanna-Barbera Studio.
The collection also includes an array of illustrations from beloved children's books and other classic works. A dog humorously stalls photography of an otherwise picture-perfect wedding party in a flawless, watercolor cover design by Glen Fleischmann. A medieval knight fends off a dragon in a book illustration by Katherine Pyle. Shakespeare's elegantly dressed younger daughter watches a young man read her father's manuscript in an exquisitely detailed drawing by Edwin Austin Abbey, one of the leading artists of America's "Golden Age of Illustration" (1880–1930). Colorful children's book illustrations include Johnny Gruelle's depiction of the ever-popular Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy floating in a river, and Michael Hague's dramatic scene of a mouse threatened by an owl.
Bold images by masters of the "ungentlemanly art" of political cartooning will interest those who are fascinated by major events and issues of the past 120 years. The name "Ding" Darling may seem obscure now, but his dynamic drawing of a taxi plowing through a crowd of people creates a timeless metaphor for inflation and the cost of living. Etta Hulme, one of the few women political cartoonists, twists the image of men stranded on a desert island in search of buried treasure into an ironic reminder that income taxes are due. Thomas Nast, regarded by many as the father of American political cartooning, skewers Sen. James G. Blaine, who was a perennial candidate for president in the 19th century. The late Edmund Valtman, a more conservative political cartoonist, proved that even the political right did not always agree with Richard Nixon—as seen in Valtman's attack on the president's inability to withstand pressure from the oil industry. His visual critique may resonate with political observers today.
Art Wood spent decades honing his craft, and his work is represented by several cartoons, including one of a woman going ballistic over the price of groceries, an example that is both delightful and pointed.
The amusing quirks and foibles of human behavior provide a rich source of humor for the creators of single-panel "gag" cartoons. New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno lampoons a group of wealthy socialites preparing to engage in the childish activity of hissing at the untouchable Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a hilarious evening party scene. Barbara Shermund drolly depicts a dog rolling his eyes at the utter lack of skill shown by a blonde, would-be huntress. Ed Dahlin uses double entendre in an otherwise innocent Boy Scout scene. The brilliant African American artist E. Simms Campbell portrays the shrewd artifice of leggy showgirls in their dressing room. A woman in an amorous embrace gasps when she realizes that she is the object of disapproving gazes from subjects depicted in the Old Master paintings surrounding her in David Pascal's rendition of life intimidated by art.
Such is the power of caricature that Homer Davenport depicts newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst—who actively promoted the placement of comic strips in newspapers—as a puckish, gangly boy, belying his considerable power of the press. Miguel Covarrubias gently portrays an impossible encounter between the brash "Roxy" Rothafel and the elegant maestro Arturo Toscanini, manipulating form to effect and capturing their personalities with his brush. Al Hirschfeld's early, groundbreaking review for the theatrical production of "Jumbo" reflects the influence of Covarrubias' spare esthetic, yet displays Hirschfeld's own gift for masterful use of line. David Levine proves why he rises above modern caricaturists with his winning combination of expressive form and line in his powerful drawing of civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael, exemplary of his work for Esquire and The New York Review of Books.
A companion volume to the exhibition titled "Cartoon America: Comic Art in the Library of Congress" has been published by the Library in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Edited by Harry Katz, former head curator of the Library's Prints and Photographs Division, the book celebrates 250 years of American cartooning. Included among the 275 full-color illustrations in the book are a number of items in the exhibition, along with examples from the Library's other outstanding collections of related art. An online version of the exhibition is available at www.loc.gov/exhibits/cartoonamerica/.
The exhibition and an accompanying brochure are funded through the generous support of the Caroline and Erwin Swann Memorial Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon. The Swann Foundation showcases the collections of the Library of Congress in rotating exhibitions and promotes the Swann Foundation's ongoing program in the study of cartoon, caricature and illustration, while offering a provocative and informative selection of works by masters from the past and present.
Sara W. Duke and Martha H. Kennedy are curators in the Library's Prints and Photographs Division.