By Holly Huston Krueger
Herbert Block (Herblock), four-time Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, was a seminal figure in the political landscape for most of the 20th century. In 1946 he joined the Washington Post and spent the next 55 years as its editorial cartoonist. Upon his death in 2001, the Herb Block Foundation donated his entire collection to the Library of Congress along with the funds necessary for its preservation. The collection consists of 14,400 original drawings for his daily published cartoons as well as over 50,000 “roughs”. The drawings and some of the roughs had been stored in the basement of Herblock’s Georgetown house. They were stacked upright in file cabinets or laid atop tables. The room was tiny and while it had a de-humidifier, it was clear that it hadn’t worked for a while and the floor was covered with moldy carpet. Miraculously, the drawings themselves had been spared damage from this precarious storage situation, but the trustees wanted the transfer to the Library to occur as soon as possible.
Results of Examination
Herb Block was consistent throughout his career in the materials he chose. The majority of the finished drawings were executed in graphite media with some India ink. He made liberal use of an opaque white material both as correction fluid and as a drawing media. Later in his career, he used commercially available “Avery Labels” in addition to the opaque white correction fluids as well as felt tip pens, lithograph crayons and blue pencils. They were drawn on a textured layered paper produced for artists who work with friable media commonly known as “Coquille Board”. Fortunately for ease of storage issues, the drawings were nearly uniform in size. As part of the process of reproduction into print, translucent paper had been stapled to the top of all the drawing to prevent smearing. Many of the drawings also have some publisher’s marks or labels.
The second part of the collection consisted of approximately 50,000 “roughs”. For the cartoons he developed into a finished drawing, Herblock would rough out two or three ideas to take to his editor. These sketches are a goldmine in revealing his thought process. Unfortunately, they are executed in graphite pencil on very poor quality newsprint. Their storage was haphazard at best, bundled together with rubber bands or paper clips, covered with crumbs of his beloved Hershey’s Chocolate and stuffed into any available box, cabinet or available container. Any handling resulted in loss to the extremely fragile and brittle support.