Some of the most adorable images of the 1950s were reproduced on the covers of paper doll and coloring books, proclaims the web site Paper Goodies from Judy’s Place.
Merrill Publishing Company in Chicago is considered to have published some of the best of its kind. The proprietor Marion Elizabeth Merrill demanded–and got–quality artwork for printing on thin cardboard stock of books that would sell for just 29¢. Jean Woodcock bought Merrill in 1979 and in 2008 a selection from Merrill’s archive of original artwork for cover designs was offered for sale by Mitch Itkowitz.
Among Merrill’s popular illustrators was Elizabeth Anne Voss (1925-1969). Her pretty little Caucasian girls with almond-shaped eyes wearing dresses bedizened with bows, ribbons, and trims are instantly recognizable. Their continuing appeal is confirmed by the fact that high-quality pdfs of her paintings can be purchased for printing out and recreating the originals at home in a slightly smaller format. Voss’s fans have speculated that there were two sisters working for Merrill at the same time because covers in the same style are signed “E. Voss,” “E. A. Voss,” “B. Gartrell,” “Betty Gartrell,” and “Elizabeth Gartrell.”
Thanks to a recent gift of a small group of covers and artwork by Voss from the late 1950s and early 1960s from her husband Donald H. Voss ’44, *49, I’ve pieced together some information about Betty Anne, as she was known. She was the daughter of Nancy Reynolds and the engineer Robert D. Gartrell, who is famous in horticultural circles for the Robin Hill Azaleas, a group of hybrids he developed while living in New Jersey. One cultivar was named after his artist-daughter. Before her marriage to Donald Voss in 1952, Betty Anne signed her work with her maiden name Gartrell.
Covers in the Voss donation suggest that cover designs signed “Gartrell” or “Voss” could be in simultaneous circulation for some years, so it’s no wonder people have assumed that E. A. Voss and B. Gartrell were two people. This confusion might have been cleared up much sooner if Voss had illustrated picture books instead of covers, in which case it’s more likely that she would have been the subject of articles in standard reference sources.
Some of Voss’s best loved images appeared on the covers of books with holiday themes, although typically she did mostly outline drawings for the coloring books.
The copies of Little Miss Christmas and Santa and Little Miss Christmas and Holly-Belle in the Voss donation suggest that Merrill must have asked her to redo the cover paintings periodically to keep them fresh. Voss designed new gowns and accessories, added and subtracted figures, which necessitated rearranging the composition, etc. The typefaces and their layout could vary significantly from cover to cover, although at first glance they look rather similar.
One of the nicest items in the Voss gift is the copy of Little Miss Christmas and Holly-Belle with Santa Claus in the background. It’s not a coloring book, as I discovered while processing the collection, but Betty Anne’s preliminary drawings for the costumes for the two characters fastened into printed covers.
Cotsen is most grateful to Donald Voss for this tribute to his wife, whose work is so characteristic of the period.
So a Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!