Curator’s Choice: Maud and Miska Petersham’s Toy Story Hary Janos and Get-Away

Recently a friend reminded me that when we were little, one of our favorite things to do was  noisily acting out stories from Margery Clark’s The Poppy Seed  Cakes.  Neither of our dress-up chests would have had anything as splendid as the “Old Country” clothes drawn by the Petershams, a husband and wife team of author-illustrators. Nor were our beds were painted with colorful decorations inspired by Hungarian folkloric designs. But the Petershams’ picture book world grounded my early notions of the exotic.

Years later after Mr. Cotsen hired me, I became reacquainted with the Petershams in the most delightful way.  Among the first treasures I saw in the cache at Neutrogena was the archive for their The Ark of Father Noah and Mother Noah (1930), which was my first look up close at a picture book from the rough pencil sketches to the finished artwork.  Eventually fortune  (or truthfully Helen Younger of Aleph-Bet Books) threw a second, even more splendid Petersham maquette Cotsen’s: Get-a-Way and Hary Janos (1933).  The title characters are a worn-out stuffed horse and his friend, a wooden soldier doll “faded and one armed…but still proud and boastful” as befits a Hungarian hussar down on his luck. The inspiration for the soldier is the comic epic poem Az obsitos by Garay Janos.  The Petershams’ picture book is not a string of tall tales the old veteran spins about his service in the Austrian army; its dream-like narrative set in “a far-off land where old toys become new and gay” owes a little something to the more famous Velveteen Rabbit.

Pairing the art in the maquette with the illustration in the published book is a delightful exercise in observing the artists at work.   Here are our heroes, making their weary way to the entrance to the promised land for toys who have outlived their owners’ love somewhat worse for the wear.  If you look closely at the drawing, you can see that the pencil design for the decorative capital S is supposed to fit in the box to the left of “eady boy!”  Notice how much more saturated the blues are in the illustration–tribute to the skill of the William Edwin Rudge firm that printed it.

The art and the printed version for this image shows how the Petershams fleshed out their idea for the gate to the promised land.  The architectural elements seem to be fully formed at this stage, but many of the little figures filling out the composition have yet to be worked out.

Here are Get-a-Way and Hary Janos telling their sad stories to the sympathetic governor.   The drawing is shown here with the printed version tweaked for the cover design.  At the bottom of the drawing, you can make out the note “same as the cover except blue.”  That’s not strictly true because the sun in the upper left hand corner had to go to make room for the hand lettered title.  And expression on Hary’s face is less perplexed.

Fundamental changes were made in certain pictures.  Here is the drawing of Hary Janos, chest puffed out, stepping out with a lady on either arm.  The adoring matryoshka doll in the drawing was changed out for a rather sly-looking woman wearing a pink apron with a zigzagged border over purple dress.  Notice how much the posture of Get-a-way in the upper left hand corner has been altered.  And he’s crying as well. 

A number of full-color illustrations, like this one of Hary Janos taking the lovely brunette in yellow for a spin, had to be sacrificed on the altar of the budget.  “Now only black & white” reads the note at the bottom.   The silhouette of the car became more streamlined in the printed version as well.

And last but not least, here is a series of drawings showing how the initial idea changed as the Petershams worked through the preliminary pencil sketch to a full-color drawing to the final version in the book.  It’s Hary Janos telling tales again…  I love the way the  clothes,  the postures, and expressions of the three figures change.

This post is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Helen B Younger, co-proprietor with her husband Marc, of Aleph-Bet Books.  Thanks to Helen, this glorious maquette and many, many other wonderful things are part of the collection of the Cotsen Children’s Library.   She succumbed last week to FSH, which she valiantly battled all her life and yet refused to let define or slow her down.  One of  her generation’s great dealers in children’s books, Aleph-Bet always had one of the grand double booths at the entrance to the New York Antiquarian Bookfair.  It will be sad indeed to pass through the doors into the bustle and not stop to see Helen and Marc first…

Thank Heaven for Little Girls: The Album des jeunes Demoiselles by Edmond Morin

Edmond Morin, the nineteenth century French painter, watercolorist, and engraver, illustrated children’s books for the leading French publishers Hetzel and Hachette.  He also created comic strips for the periodical Le semaine des enfants  like “L’ Histoire de la queue d’un chien,” in which a boy tried to defend his dog from a giant lobster. Cotsen has some nice examples of Morin’s lithographed picture books, including an alphabet, a book of trades, and editions of Perrault’s fairy tales and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Morin’s Album des jeunes demoiselles (Paris: Aubert & Cie, ca. 1845?) is full of pictures of fashionably dressed little girls fishing, being ambushed by geese, drinking milk from a bucket, circle-dancing on the grass, and tending flower gardens.  The beautiful hand-colored lithographic plates were produced by the same firm who printed  the works of Daumier and other famous satirists of the day.

Dolls appear in many of the plates. Here the carriage waits for Madam, who is escorted down the stairs by two young ladies.  It looks like a lovely afternoon for a drive.

The tall, slender doll in a pink gown and modest white cap makes her devotions kneeling before a chair.   A pair of girls observe her.  They whisper approvingly, “See how good she is,”  but their ensembles suggest they pay far more attention to their clothes than the states of their souls .

This doll is dwarfed by her  crib with the rose canopy.  She dozes, oblivious to the girls working hard overhead on her trousseau.A carefully dressed doll artfully propped up on the sofa, is an excellent subject for a sketch.Polichinelle goes down on one knee to propose marriage to the doll he simply cannot imagine life without.  The girl in the yellow hat looks as if she worries that the match will not be especially advantageous.  He is so ugly.  And his shoes are atrocious.Are the girls taking turns playing the school mistress, so they all have a chance to discipline the poor doll?  Surely none of them have ever been guilty of neglecting their lessons and made to wear the donkey’s ears…