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Thursday, September 15, 2016

An Artist, Even to the End

Lucille Webster, Holling’s wife, was a striking woman of many talents, chiefly an artist in her own right and a collaborator to Holling’s writing, research and illustration.  Born on Dec. 8, 1900, in Valparaiso, Ind., her initial interest lay in art fashion and she attended the Art Institute of Chicago.  In Chicago, she designed theatrical scenery and costumes, and she drew for fashion publications.   

A woman of many talents, she flew a Piper Cub and coined the term “hero” for a hoagie or sub sandwich because “you had to be a hero to eat it all.” 

No less a personage than food critic Clementine Paddleford in This Week magazine asked  Lucille about Pagoo when she was a dinner guest of the Hollings at their home in Pasadena, Cal.  “Holling did the writing,” Lucille said, “and the 20 full-page color plates.  I did the black and white detailed marginal drawings.”  That day, Lucille prepared the dinner of chicken Hawaiian to celebrate publication of Pagoo, the hermit crab, their fifth book in the children’s series. 

When Holling died on Sept. 7, 1973, Lucille did not come to Michigan for the funeral, possibly because she was not well at the time.  But she wrote out these detailed instructions for the monument and left handwritten instructions for type sizes, fonts and measurements. 
In researching this, Joan Hoffman of the Holling collection in Henrietta Township, Mich., said, “[Lucille’s] pattern was printed on cardstock weight paper.  It has been rolled up for years, probably since the early 70s.”  She carefully unrolled it to take the photo seen here.
She says, “I assume she purposely did not include Holling’s birth and death dates to send the message that he lives as long as his books are read.”  The silhouette is, of course, Paddle-to-the-Sea, Holling’s most popular and representative icon.  That marker is at the Nims Cemetery near our home in Henrietta Township.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Opening a New World and Revisiting an Old One

Readers who have become adults will often happen across a writer or illustrator and have a flash of memory about what that work meant when they were eight years old or 10 or 12.  It mirrors the discovery they experienced at that age when a new world opened up. 

My friend (and guide to all things Holling) mentioned such an incident.  Joan Hoffman recalled that this summer two boys — probably fourth or fifth graders — were sitting on the step of the museum door in Leslie, Mich. 

She asked “Are you going to the museum?”  It seemed like a new thought to the boys and they came inside soon after to wander and wonder.  She says “They especially liked the hermit crab model by Holling’s Pagoo book, and then the large snapping turtle shell by the Minn of the Mississippi story.”  One of the boys couldn’t imagine carrying that shell around on his back all day.  The children left later with a lot to think about, and they left a curator happy to have opened the eyes of two kids to another world.  That’s the beauty of Holling Clancy Holling’s work. 

And there was another incident this summer.  Joan had popped into the museum unexpectedly and encountered a visitor from Lansing, Mich.  “He asked if there was anyone who knew about a one-room schoolhouse in Henrietta Township,” she reports, where Holling had grown up.  She was speechless for a moment because he was talking about Holling School and told her he had attended kindergarten and first grade there many years ago. 

All of the one-room schools in the area had been consolidated, and a new elementary school with nine classrooms was erected.  The Holling School was demolished in 1963. 

Joan took the visitor to the spot where the school had been and where a new home sits on the foundation.  She pointed out the home where Holling was born and other buildings in Holling Corners.  Then they walked up the hill to Nims Cemetery where Holling is buried.  Oh, and Joan made one more stop, at her own home where her husband scanned an old photo of Holling School for the visitor before they returned to the museum. 

It’s such things like these discoveries and recollections that provide a writer with a certain immortality.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Nice Coincidence. Now Spread the Word

Surprises are always happening. Joan Hoffman, who runs the Holling museum up in Leslie, Mich., had a recent visit from a retired fifth grade teacher in California who particularly loves Holling.  “She and her Michigan friend had read our Michigan History Magazine article about Holling and wanted to visit the Leslie Museum to learn more,” Joan reports. 

“We enjoyed a May morning together at the Museum and at Holling's gravesite.  Then they spent the rest of the day and the next two days at other Michigan sites.  While on this trip, they stopped at a number of bookstores to buy a copy of Paddle -to-the-Sea, but there were none to be found.  The California friend urged every Michigan bookstore they entered that they should have the books by this wonderful Michigan author on their shelves.”  Some testimonial. 

Joan said that with this experience behind them, “They felt our museum should have copies of Paddle-to-the Sea available to sell.”  Whereupon, the pair purchased eight copies from Barnes & Noble and donated them to the museum. “What a thoughtful gift,” Joan said. 

She ended her long-distance e-mail to me, saying, “I look at these presentations as an opportunity to spread the word about Holling and his work.  The day before hosting these two visitors, I had 13 for a presentation. So hopefully each of the 15 will say something about Holling to at least one other person.” 

On this 75th anniversary of Paddle’s publishing, you might want to consider a young friend or family member who needs an introduction to this writer.  It can be your gift.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bringing Items—and People—Together

The Kitchen Klenzer elephants with their blankets
Joan Hoffman, curator of the museum with Holling art and artifacts in Leslie, Mich., sent me a nice note this week.  She said “Thanks for all you do for Holling and the blog.”  But, seriously, it’s fun hearing from people who have discovered something while they’re searching eBay, thrift stores or flea markets!  

About a year ago, one of our readers, Deb, posted a note.  She had been searching for  Kitchen Klenzer Circus items that Holling had designed.  “I had purchased [them] at an estate sale, had planned sell them on eBay and was looking for something about it to put in my description.”  Kitchen Klenzer was a product created in 1908.  Holling did a number of cutouts and dioramas for children in the 1930s, often while promoting products.  So this is a long time for paper ephemera to last and be cherished. 

I was able to put Deb in touch with Joan where the two discovered each had some items the other was missing.  Deb sent her pieces to Joan so a tabletop display could be created for museum visitors to see.  Joan just sent me a photo, so let me now share it with you.  And, thank you all for keeping your eyes peeled for things

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Get Out! – and Find Four Things

Someone once said education should be pleasurable, but I’m afraid too much rote learning is dull and terrifying and unpleasant.  That’s why I was happy when a reader of this blog, Polly Brown, introduced me to a game even I can play.   

She writes in her blog, ( “Someone…said research had shown that the typical American kid spends an average of just seven minutes each day outside.  ‘Yikes!’ I thought later, as I walked under oak woods and tall white pines, past a beach still covered with snow.  I couldn’t have heard that right.”

She suggests playing a game, but you can call it an assignment or meditative exercise, to open up the outdoor world.  It comes from Holling’s Minn  of the Mississippi published in 1951.  Holling wrote, Ms. Brown reminds us, “a miniature natural history museum could consist of just four things – a pebble, a leaf, a feather, and a button.  Something mineral, for geology; from a plant, for biology; from an animal, for zoology; and made by a human, for anthropology.” 

“Find Four Things makes a wonderful assignment for homework outdoors.”  She says kids can do this in their backyards or other outdoor places.  They should skip things found indoors — so no shells from Florida sent north by cousins.  If animal remains — a feather or shell — can’t be found, perhaps there’s a trace of a tooth mark on an acorn or a footprint or the trail of insects on the inside bark of a tree.  

She works with children in this adventure game, then they share their collections, learning about where the items came from.  And they set their discoveries on a table to become a miniature museum.

A poet and a philosopher, Ms. Brown says, “I’m here mostly to practice gathering and letting go.  I stand outside, under an enormous sky, and hold enormous things in my small and always aging heart.  All the living beings of the natural world – not just we humans – dwell in the compost pile of what has been, and in the seeds and (often invisible) eggs of what will be.” 

And this is truly lovely:  “As I lay down my collection, gathered from that dear rubble the melting snow reveals, I think of all those children trapped indoors.  I really don’t believe that thing about seven minutes.  Still, just in case, I mutter to the air at large: Let my people go.”


Sunday, April 24, 2016

It’s a Great Story (Pass It On)

It’s remarkable, but not unusual, for a book to remain popular 75 years after it is first published.  That’s been the case with Paddle-to-the-Sea, Houghton Mifflin’s 1941 entry.  We can all think of other popular children’s stories, and mainstream novels like Gone with the Wind, the 1939 epic, but Paddle is still special to many after all these years. 

Up in Leslie, Mich., Joan Hoffman is helping with a small celebration of Mr. Holling’s classic.  She wrote to me, saying, “What I greatly enjoy is talking with individuals who have a special interest in Holling.  That doesn't often happen at the museum.  [She curates the Holling collection at the Leslie Area Historical Museum .]  People come to the museum for many different reasons related to local history.  Only three times in the past year have visitors come with a specific interest in Holling.  Those were great times for me.”

That may change soon.  “Two opportunities are coming up soon which were generated from our Holling article in the Michigan History magazine,” she says.  “One is a family of four coming from Albion, Mich., the other is a retired fifth grade teacher from California who will be visiting a friend here in May.  She is a great admirer of Holling and wants to get together.  I plan to meet with these two parties on non-museum days so I can spend more time with them without interruption.”  How many museum curators offer that kind of attention? 

Visitors will also be able to see the poster Joan created to commemorate those 75 years in which children of all ages have experienced the wonders of America and its people.  And, if you’re passing near Lisle, drop in and say hello to a wonderful woman who’s helping to keep the past in our present.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

What a Funny Name! It’s a Tautonym*

It may be worth repeating that Holling’s name was the first thing that captured me as a child reader.  Who on earth has the same first name as his surname?  Further,  Holling Clancy Holling has the strange beauty of a harsh Irish name bookended by two action words, or gerunds. 

Mr. Holling, however, was born Holling Allison Clancy in the eponymous Holling Corners, Mich.  His forebears had lived and farmed there for generations.  Holling was his mother’s maiden name, according to Joan Hoffman, who curates the Leslie Area Historical Museum.  “While attending the Art Institute of Chicago,” she writes, “he used Holling as his signature and became known as Mr. Holling, except by those who knew him well.  Another contributing factor [to the name change] was that there were ample Clancy cousins to carry on the name — his father was one of 12 children — unlike the surname Holling that had come to an end.” 

He legally changed his name in 1925, the year that he married Lucille Webster.  Holling’s friends asked if Lucille would now be known as Mrs. Clancy or Mrs. Holling, The couple thought about it, and since Holling had been writing as Holling Clancy Holling they decided to make the change legal.   

(The Irish judge who approved the identity change challenged, “And why, begorra would anyone with a perfectly good Irish name of Clancy want to change it to the English name of Holling?” 

If a writer wants to keep his or her name on readers’ lips, there are worse ways than to name yourself redundantly.  There’s the British writer Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927), whose father was responsible for the surname change.  And Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), who changed his name in 1919 because “Hueffer” may have sounded too German. 
William Cole whimsically outlined the situation in his limerick, “Mutual Problem,”  

Said Jerome K. Jerome to Ford Madox Ford,
‘There's something, old boy, that I've always abhorred:
When people address me and call me, ‘Jerome’,
Are they being standoffish, or too much at home?’’
Said Ford, ‘I agree; it's the same thing with me.’  

* A tautonym is a scientific name in which the same word is used for genus and species.  For example, the red fox is Vulpes vulpes and the black rat is Rattus rattus.  Thus, Holling Clancy Holling is both genus and species for author, artist and naturalist.  Makes sense, no?