Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Denslow Compilations

Eighteen picture books were written and illustrated by W. W. Denslow in 1903 and 1904, and published by the G. W. Dillingham company. The series proved popular, and the stories were also released as three hardcover books, each containing 6 stories. Several years later, ca. 1913, the books were reissued by the Donohue company; a reprint house specializing in cheaper editions. I have the Donohue versions of the three books, and it’s interesting to compare the printing of the illustrations in these copies to the original Dillingham printings.
The Dillingham versions present the stories in a sophisticated color range. Denslow's carefully considered palette of soft tones of orange, turquoise and olive green has been replaced in the Donohue editions with a more standard red/yellow/blue selection. This, combined with a pulpier paper of lower quality, creates murkier images and removes the cosiness of the muted color tones in the original printings. Presumably the brighter inks were thought to have greater appeal for the child readers. I prefer the original colors, which reflect Denslow's original choices.
In this example from Old Mother Hubbard, the new color scheme upsets the balance of the drawing. The blue background may be more colorful, but it overpowers the rest of the image, making the dog more difficult to see.

This page from Tom Thumb shows the poor effect of the new coloration. The colors are dark and unfriendly, calling too much attention to the drawing compared to the text.

And this wizard from Tom Thumb turns a bit garish in his diagonal stripes; the harmony of color seen in the original version is lacking, particularly against the newly dark background.

Finally, even our old friend the Scarecrow suffers in
this drawing from The House That Jack Built. As with the other examples shown, the darker colors make Denslow's masterly line work difficult to see, and the entire image suffers in consequence.

Donahue published editions of several other Denslow books, including The Wizard of Oz, all of which suffered in the print quality of the illustrations.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

My Dear Mr. Neill (Part 3)

Click here for Part 1 of this article 

Click here for Part 2  of this article

Marie Lufkin succeeded in commissioning a large Oz painting from John R. Neill, to hang over the fireplace in her new living room. At the same time, a second smaller commission was placed; Neill was to design a bookplate for the Lufkins.

On the back of one of the sketches for the fireplace painting is a rough pencil drawing for the bookplate design. The figures of the Scarecrow and Tin Man are shown carrying piles of perilously stacked books, which are starting to topple. There are a couple drafts of lettering for the inscription, and of course Marie had input on this design:

   About the book plate. The only thing is that I would like it rectangular and to have the inscription "Marie and Elgood Lufkin - their book". Don't you think that that is sufficient? I don't think it is necessary to have "The Land of Oz" anyplace, do you, as that will be understood by the characters drawn -? However, you decide about that, as you know best, and I know that whatever you do will be perfect.

In a letter from November 4th, 1936, Marie thanked Neill for the finished fireplace painting, and went on to say:

We love everything you have done for us and we appreciate your kindness and friendship more than I can ever tell you. 

I am enclosing one of the finished bookplates. Aren't they keen? - We're crazy about them.  

The image on the finished bookplate is reversed from the sketch, with the characters enclosed in one of Neill’s fanciful and detail-filled borders. The cost of the drawing for this piece was $50.

A couple years later Neill designed a holiday card for the couple, for the year 1939-1940. The artist drew a picture of the Lufkin's living room, complete with Oz painting over the fireplace, and Oz characters dancing before the fire. The fire itself has been colored red, by hand.

The card is large, a full 8.5" x 11", and contains a holiday greeting hand-lettered by Neill. The artist was no stranger to designing holiday cards, as he had drawn his own family cards for a number of years (see post). This card was quite a change from the small Christmas note the Lufkins had sent to Neill the previous year!
The Lufkins obtained a variety of other things from Neill over the years, including a second, smaller, original Oz painting. This was designed by the artist for an antique shop owned by Marie, appropriately called The Land of Oz Antique Shop. 

After Neill's death in 1943, Marie sent a letter of condolence to his widow:

Dear Mrs. Neill:

I just heard of Mr. Neill's death this morning and I wanted to write you immediately to tell you how badly we feel for you and yours and the great loss his death will be to all.

I only met Mr Neill once, as you know, but I really feel that I knew him so well and I was very fond of him.

Elgood and I send you and your family our deepest sympathy and be assured that you will be constantly in our thoughts and prayers. 

Always sincerely

Marie Murray Lufkin

Monday, August 7, 2023

My Dear Mr Neill (Part 2)

About a year ago I blogged about the start of the relationship between the Lufkin family and Oz illustrator John R. Neill. Letters from Marie Lufkin to the artist show the progress of the connection, and how the friendship resulted in the building of a unique collection of the artist's work.
Marie was persistent in applying to Neill for artwork, particularly for the watercolors used in The Emerald City of Oz. After learning that he didn’t actually own any of those pieces, she commissioned the illustrator to create a large new Oz painting. This was to hang over the fireplace in the living room of the Connecticut farm that the Lufkins were renovating. I particularly like this note from Marie, which was enclosed in a letter dated July 21st, 1936. It details her ideas for the design of the painting:

I think the panel should have a border around. Don’t you?

 As you know my favorite characters are the Scarecrow, Pumpkinhead, the Wizard, Dorothy, Ozma & Glinda, the Tin Woodman, Toto, the Cowardly Lion & the Hungry Tiger, Tick-Tock. (sic)

She was fairly comprehensive in her character list!

The back of the page also has a sketch showing the size for the painting, and indicating how it would be placed above the fireplace. 

The letter that was included with the note brings up the apparently embarrassing question of what the painting would cost:

It's a very ticklish subject Mr Neill, and I hate writing or talking about it, when you were such a wonder to say that you would do it - but I have to - How much money will it cost? Now it's out and I'm relieved - It's been worrying me for weeks how I could ask and I guess the simplest way is the best.

Once that ticklish question had been answered, the work began in earnest. A letter from August 14th reads:

Dear Mr. Neill -

I loved talking to you the other night and was delighted to hear that you are really on your way with "our Oz painting" - It sounds gorgeous & El & I both loved your idea of the Cowardly Lion & the Hungry Tiger leading the procession - DO send me a sketch of it soon - I can hardly wait to see it!

Neill created a number of color sketches for this project, in various sizes and degrees of finish. I have three early rough drafts, trying out layouts, character placement and color schemes. Eventually a more finished piece was sent to the Lufkins for their approval, and finally the actual painting was completed.
The finished artwork was shipped on October 10th, 1936. The shipping bill reveals the answer to Marie Lufkin's "ticklish question"; a value of $150 is listed for the final painting. 
Marie was thrilled with the piece and in a letter dated November 4th, 1936 she thanks Neill for the painting:

The painting is just too perfect and makes the living room. We are going to put a very light yellow wash on the walls - How do you think that sounds? Also Venetian blinds & I have not decided on the chintz - It sounds finished doesn’t it? Well it is, in my mind, but you should see the room actually! At the present moment there is a buzz saw going at top speed. Shavings all over the floor & carpenters banging away.
 She also says:

Of course I wanted you to send me a bill, and I want to thank you for being so generous and thoughtful with your work. As soon as our addition is finished Elgood and I want you and Mrs. Neill to come up for a night. You would wouldn't you? We're not a bit sporty as you know, so you wouldn't have to do anything you didn't want to and we'd love to have you both.

It doesn’t appear that Neill ever did make it up to the farm. I believe Marie only met him in person once.

When the house was sold in later years, the painting was removed by the family and preserved. A page from the prospectus for the house sale shows the living room, with the Oz panel still in its original location (image courtesy of Brady Schwind).