James Daugherty, “Advance-Guard Wolf in Square Sheep’s Clothing,” Roars into Cotsen

Thanks to the generosity of John Solum, ’57 and the Friends of James Daugherty Foundation, Cotsen has received a major gift of books and artwork by the prolific and versatile James Daugherty (1887-1974), modernist painter, WPA muralist, and children’s book illustrator.

daugherty port

In American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to The Beast Within (1976), Barbara Bader has this to say about him:

When James Daugherty came to the attention of the book world, juvenile and adult, as the illustrator of Stewart Edward White’s Daniel Boone (1926), he was known elsewhere as a painter of “synchronist” abstractions derived from Delaunay, Matisse,  Cezanne– a reminder that  “James Daugherty, Buckskin Illustrator,” “as thoroughly American as Fanueil Hall,” had drunk at other waters besides the Wabash. (“An advance-guard wolf in square sheep’s clothing,” Hilton Kramer called him years later.”)


James Daugherty, “3 Base Hit” (1914)

For Daugherty, the frontier of Boone and Davy Crockett was a childhood legacy.  As a young man he absorbed Europe and especially its Baroque art. World War I found him working for the Navy, camouflaging ships (in cubist shapes) and designing posters.  The Twenties brought exhibitions at the Societe Anonyme… and commissions for murals at those “palaces of the people,” Loew’s movie theaters.

daugherty state theater cleveland mural

Three of the four murals James Daugherty painted in 1920 for Loew’s State Theater in Cleveland.

Out of all this came, somehow, the massive figures, the swirling forms and fluid rhythms that are Daugherty’s signature, and a long and immensely busy career as a book illustrator.


Like many mid-century American children’s book creators, Daugherty’s reputation has fallen off.   In the early twenty-first century, his writing style can seem overly grandiose for a young audience and his portrayal of  Native Americans in the sweep of America’s manifest destiny is distasteful to many: the majority of reviewers on GoodReads agreed that they would not read  to their children Daugherty’s Daniel Boone, the winner of the 1939 Newbery medal, although a good number admired the illustrations in spite of reservations.  Blogger Peter D. Sieruta showed the similarities between the images of Native Americans in Daugherty’s mural “The Life and Times of General Israel Putnam of Connecticut” and the ones in his Newbery award-winning biography.  Certainly the depiction of the relationship between the English colonists and  Native Americans in Edgar and Ingri d’Aulaire’s once classic picture book biography of Pocahantas looks very different in 2015 than it did in 1946.

daugherty israel putnam mural

Daugherty’s controversial “Israel Putnam” mural at the Greenwich Public Library in Connecticut.

The history of children’s books is hardly free from controversy, as anyone knows who has been following the online discussion over the last two weeks about the picture book A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall. The rare books stacks in the Cotsen Children’s Library contain a great deal of material that few librarians, teachers, or parents would feel comfortable showing to little children now. But once that material was thought appropriate (rightly or wrongly) and helping researchers document and understand the whys behind the shifts in values is part of Cotsen’s mission as a special collection of historical illustrated children’s books.

The gift of the Daugherty archive could be of potential interest to a researcher interested in tracing how American history has been retold in children’s books so that includes the stories of racial and ethnic minorities.  Another person might want to explore the issues underlying  the desire to present a heroic view of our nation’s past in spite of the legacies of slavery and government policies that forcibly removed tribes from traditional homelands.  A third might wonder about the influence of primitivism upon children’s book illustrators drawing Native Americans or African-Americans.

Cotsen now owns a copy of every children’s book Daugherty illustrated and  a gap has been filled in its collection of American children’s books 1920-1970.  Sixty of those children’s books came with a file of the original drawings and nine include maquettes as well: Daniel Boone, The Gettysburg Address, Of Courage Undaunted, The Sound of Trumpets, Thoreau, West of Boston, The Wild Wild West, and The Wisher.  The gift of 427 drawings also comprises designs for twenty dust jackets and materials from projects Daugherty never completed such as The Terrific Rabbit, or Nothing to Fear, A Book of Rogues and Rascals and Other Merry Men, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  In spite of the size, the collection should be straightforward to process, thanks to donor John Solum, who took the time to organize all the drawings by the book they were made for and, as the icing on the cake, to identify the pages on which they appeared.

daugherty wild westdaugherty lincoln







A Coda

Daugherty had a lighter side, as this cover he designed for The New Yorker in the 1920s shows.  Sharp-eyed readers will notice that he signed it with his pseudonym”Jimmie the Ink” near the figure’s right calf.


The Daugherty gift includes some wonderful artwork from Jimmie the Ink’s first and most famous picture book, Andy and the Lion (1938), an all-American retelling of “Androcles and the Lion.”  The manuscript was on display in “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter,” curated by Leonard Marcus for the New York Public Library. But Daugherty didn’t give NYPL everything for Andy! The Friends of James Daugherty Foundation presented Cotsen with a trial design for the title page signed “Jimmie the Ink” along with the splendid design for the endpapers.




Marcus French Celebrates Halloween in 1926

toothy pumpkin

Eighteen years ago on Halloween, the Cotsen Children’s Library opened its doors to the public.  This year, we’ll commemorate both occasions with a letter written by Marcus French, one of the most amusing and vivid of the child authors in the collection.

Some years back Bruce C. Willsie ’86, one of RBSC’s most generous donors, presented to Cotsen this delightful archive of thirty illustrated letters Marcus wrote to his big sister Eleanor when she was away at school between 1925 and 1927.  Marcus formatted all the news that was fit to relate–and fair amount that wasn’t–as if it were appearing in a Pathe newsreel.  Over the next few months I’ll be running a series of Marcus’s letters.

In 1926, ten-year-old Marcus wrote Eleanor a long letter on Halloween–four pages of news accompanied by four pages of pictures within borders of seasonal imagery he drew himself.  The first picture shows his cat Jock being run over by a motorcycle he tried to chase (maybe a classic Harley-Davidson?).  Don’t believe the bit about Jock losing a leg–he was just bruised.

page 1The inside double-page spread is a rogue’s gallery of Marcus and his friends in their Halloween costumes: Marcus as a clown (how appropriate…) Vedder as a pirate “with bandages and sword,”  William as a ghost, and Mike in a stovepipe hat and mask masquerading as a desparado Abraham Lincoln??  The boys had to wait until the rain stopped to go trick-or-treating, or as Marcus put it “make some calls,” and “have some fun,” that is, make mischief. They tore apart a big wooden frame and threw the pieces on porches, broke milk bottles, and rang doorbells and ran away.  “We didn’t get any pies,” Marcus reports sadly, raising the interesting question of, were homemade baked goods handed out to children making calls on Halloween night in lieu of Reese’s Pieces and other packaged candies?

page 2The significance of the news on the facing page is unclear, but it doesn’t look like a serious account of what was going on in the wider world.  Probably just a local newscast.  What do you suppose Marcus is doing in the upper right hand corner?  Turn the page to find out.

page 3

Do the dog and cat look identical or are my eyes going?

On the back page is an illustration of William heaving a plank on someone’s porch, yelling at his accomplices, “Hey cheesit kids,” with Marcus joining in, “Cheesit run kids.”   Spelling and punctuation were not Marcus’s strong points, but a lexicographer might be interested to know that a kid in Montgomery County, New York, during the 1920s used that expression to signal that it was time to beat it.

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The P.S. reads “There was a man with overalls on in church this morning.”

Now Don’t Try This at Home!

Have a safe and sane Halloween from Team Cotsen!

Andrea, Dana, Ian, Jeff, Minjie and Miriam