Welcome to the Shire!

Howard Pyle, “The Young Knight of Lea Overcomes the Knight of Lancaster.” In The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883, p. 157.

American illustrator Howard Pyle (1857-1911) was fascinated with Medieval and Renaissance history and costuming. He wrote and illustrated a number of original works set in Medieval Europe and England, and adapted classic ballads to narratives for young readers. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire is an example of the latter. Throughout this work, Pyle strove to maintain an historic aesthetic in both, visual depictions and the language used to weave the tale.

Howard Pyle, “The Mighty Fight betwixt Little John and the Cook.” In The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883, p. 72.

His insistence on depicting historic dress as authentically as possible in his illustrations led him to collect period costumes, costume books, and historic manuscripts for reference (“Howard Pyle”). His models and students would pose in the costumes, especially when depicting intense action such as the fight scene between Little John and the Cook.

Howard Pyle, “Robin and the Tinker at the Blue Boar Inn.” In The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883, p. 12.

Pyle’s illustrations and decorative designs for this tale are done in a linear style reminiscent of traditional woodblock prints. He uses lines of varying thickness to differentiate between objects and he indicates mass through the artistic techniques of cross-hatching and placing lines parallel to each other, as seen on the curved lines that circle Robin Hood’s leg in the illustration “Robin and the Tinker at the Blue Boar Inn.”

Howard Pyle, “Merry Robin Stops a Sorrowful Knight.” In The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire by Howard Pyle. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883, p. 156.

This Medieval and Renaissance aesthetic can also be seen in the hand-lettered titles for each of the full-page illustrations. The text is meant to mimic the impression of 16th century typeface, going so far as to include the medial S — the letter that looks like an F without its crossbar.

Most strikingly, Pyle endeavors to recreate the feel of Medieval or Renaissance England in the language he uses for the characters’ speech. “Thou,” “dost,” and “thee” among other expressions are liberally used throughout the book. For example, in the story “Robin Hood Aideth a Sorrowful Knight,” Robin says to Little John:

Here is a fair day, Little John, and one that we can ill waste in idleness. Choose such men as thou dost need, and go thou east while I will wend to the west, and see that each of us bringeth back some goodly guest to dine this day beneath the greenwood tree.

To which Little John replies, “Marry … thy bidding fitteth my liking like haft to blade. I’ll bring thee back a guest this day, or come not back mine own self.”

Pyle’s modern reconstruction of Old English attempts to give authenticity to his retelling of Robin Hood through yet another level of aesthetic historicism.

His artistic interpretation of “Merrie Old England” is akin to the modern day Renaissance Festival, where you will surely find a lady dressed as an Elizabethan duchess linking arms with a Knights Templar, Robin Hood chatting with Shakespeare, and a young maiden pulling her little fairy child in a Radio Flyer wagon decorated with a silk flower garland. Like the costuming and setting of your local Renaissance Festival, the visuals and language used by Pyle simultaneously feel authentic because of their dependence on historical references and are fantastic interpretations of Medieval and Renaissance history. Both are meant to transport the reader-participate into a realm where historical accuracy is not as important as the story, itself.

As you plan for your next trip to your local Shire, let Howard Pyle be your guide through a world where Robin Hood and Little John once again escape the Sheriff’s grasp under the watchful eye Queen Elizabeth. Welcome to the Shire, one and all!

“Howard Pyle,” Illustration History, https://www.illustrationhistory.org/artists/howard-pyle. Accessed 7/31/19.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.