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.
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.”)
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.
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.
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 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.