Become a Fan

A growing number of people who love children's stories, nature writing and Americana are turning to Holling as a timeless teacher of geography, culture, history, and adventure. Become a fan and continue sharing the excitement!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another Day in the Art-Detective Agency

Joan Hoffman’s September 2011 Newsletter just arrived, which tickled a number of thoughts that I’ll share here. She mentioned our correspondence with someone asking about a piece of art he had uncovered in a garage/estate sale. Holling did so much commercial work that it’s difficult to identify every item he illustrated, but this is the back story to one find:

I received a letter from Glen Webster stating, “I recently unearthed what appears to be an original HCH illustration. During my research I found your blog and hoped you might be able to help me identify it.”

The job was beyond my abilities, so I forwarded Glen’s letter to Joan Hoffman with a cc back to Glen to keep him in the loop.

Glen responded that he “purchased it in a garage sale in Oklahoma City. The illustration is framed, approximately 14 x 17” in size, with an actual image of 13 x 8”. It appears to him to have been drawn with a black felt tip pen or ink and colored with watercolors. Glen had begun his own research, and reported, “I’ve only been able to find one auction result in a 1997 Davenport’s Art Reference of $300 to $700.”

Joan cautioned, “A large part of Holling's work was commercial art, particularly in the 1930s, and that is the least known fact about his life for most people.” She judged it was a pen-and-ink illustration with watercolor. The subject details and signature also confirmed Holling. But a date would be a valuable clue since Holling’s life is pretty well dated and he legally changed his name — to Holling Clancy Holling — after 1925.

The signature style is a clue to the date, but Holling was creative in many ways, including his signature. It’s sometimes very plain and often needs to be hunted for. In one oriental painting, the signature resembled oriental characters.

On a few occasions, Holling painted a piece to be framed and sold. One documented case was a rodeo in winter when Holling made cowboy pictures for sale. He sketched and Lucille, his wife, filled in the watercolor. End of story, except for the serendipitous discovery of another Holling painting.

Subsequently, Joan mentions she has acquired the June 1933 cover of Child Life with a marionette scene by Lucille Holling, Holling’s wife and career partner. Holling also contributed art to the Century of Progress Exposition Official View Book of 1933. Joan says, “I never expected in my senior years to be surfing eBay for Holling items or in my worst nightmare trying to outbid someone on an auction item. But sometimes you just do what you have to do, and it has paid off.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Do Curators Suffer Insomnia Trying to Catalogue Art?

I’m a collector of smallish things, so I’m sympathetic to Joan Hoffman, curator of the Holling Clancy Holling Museum in Leslie, Michigan. Joan writes frequently that she’s found items Holling illustrated. Such things as a toy punch out of an elephant designed to fit on one end of a Kitchen Klenzer can, with the other end of the elephant on the opposite end. (Since 1894, Fitzpatrick Bros., Inc. has provided quality scouring cleansers including the industry original, Kitchen Klenzer.)

A decorative blanket goes over the middle, a dress-up monkey to perch on top, and a short story about elephants on the back. The animal parts and stand are cardboard; the blankets are paper, being more flexible to cover the middle section of the can. The blanket part, being of a lighter material, is separate from the cardboard animal parts.

This 1932 advertising giveaway is precious today in filling out Holling’s body of work. Joan bought the elephant “knowing Holling was especially fond of this animal going back to his first circus at the age of five.” A camel, lion and zebra comprise the total collection.

She wrote last year, “I was 99.5 percent sure this was a Holling item when I saw it on the Internet. The style and colors were definitely Holling. Then, one of my co-workers at the museum spotted the tiny HCH initials on the hind foot of the elephant I had purchased.”

Success! But this is where insomnia comes in. For some reason, the dealer sent the elephant but not the blanket. Joan did receive blankets for the camel and lion. Joan e-mailed back and it turned out there was no elephant blanket. Now the dealer couldn’t sell the camel and lion because she had no blankets. The dealer told Joan, “Send back the elephant and the two blankets and I’ll give you a refund plus postage. Plus a future discount should you want to buy something.”

“As you know,” Joan reported, “I especially wanted Holling's elephant because of his fondness for the animal. While not sleeping I thought up a possible solution. If I bought the camel using the future discount, kept the camel blanket and sent her the lion blanket, what would I owe her for the camel? She gave me a very low price, probably to get rid of me. So I have a complete camel set and an elephant without a blanket.”

As you might think, it’s not easy being passionate about an elusive artist.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Latter-day Romance of the North

Nipigon, Ontario, celebrated its centennial in July 2009, and about that time 3-year-old Treydon Turner-Brian carved (with his grandfather Joe Turner’s help) his own Paddle-to-the-Sea. Treydon’s family would be moving to Alberta shortly, and the boy wanted to be part of Nipigon’s history. He has become a part, and Paddler’s travels have become a latter-day romantic adventure.

On a stormy day in Pukaskwa National Park in November 2010, a kayaker saw Traydon’s Paddle-to-the-Sea bobbing by the mouth of the Willow River. He picked it up for a closer look. Somehow, Paddler had managed to travel more than 180km (112 miles) from Nipigon Bay to Pukaskwa.

After reading the message on the boat and showing Treydon’s Paddler to Parks Canada staff working at the Pukaskwa Tourism Information Centre, the kayaker decided to carry Paddle on to Wawa. At the outfitter where the kayaker rented his gear, a fellow adventurer, named Ed Hayworth, from New Zealand, noticed Paddler and took a liking to the little canoe. Ed decided to carry Paddler with him back to New Zealand, where he is now planning to release Paddle into the Pacific Ocean.

When Treydon helped to carve his Paddle-to-the-Sea canoe as part of Nipigon’s Centennial Celebrations, he must have hoped that it might someday reach the Atlantic Ocean. After an amazing journey, Treydon’s Paddler has gone much further than the original Paddle-to-the-Sea. The little canoe is about to be released into the salt waters of the South Pacific Ocean off of the coast of New Zealand.

A Mania for Collecting—with a Purpose

Collectors can be maniacal about gathering one of everything, but to a museum curator that’s a good thing. Joan Hoffman has kept me posted on a number of finds in her dedicated search of work that Holling — and his wife, Lucille — completed.

Regarding the Indian dancer postcard series, Joan writes that “a contact from Colorado…in the past sent me copies of mural pictures from the Ranch Restaurant in Chicago owned by his grandfather. His father scraped some of these Holling gems off the walls (they were on canvas) when the restaurant closed in the early 1950s. He now has a number of them in his home.” She points out a further discovery. “In October [2010] his father passed away and he found in his father's home a postcard of the bar section of the restaurant. Both he and I previously had seen the restaurant section but not the bar part on postcard.”

Holling was a commercial artist in addition to being one of America’s foremost illustrators and children’s book authors. Holling did many commercial things, particularly in the 1920s and 30s. For example, Joan has purchased a 1932 Holling ad for Packard that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. “I don’t expect ever to see all of them,” she says, “and am amazed when one is found on Internet.”

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Holling Postcard Illustrations Are Found!

The diligent detective work of curator Joan Hoffman has uncovered full color illustrations done by Lucille Webster Holling when she and her husband, Holling, undertook an assignment in Texas. [They’re reproduced at the bottom this site.] She found and purchased the postcards from a seller on eBay, and they recently arrived.

These postcards were published about 1941, Joan believes. “They are like the Indian dancers [Holling] painted at the new Hilton Hotel in Lubbock, Texas, at the end of 1929. This was a speedy assignment, as Holling and Lucille arrived in Lubbock on Christmas Eve and completed the job by the hotel’s opening on New Year’s Eve.”

After arriving at the new Hilton Hotel in Lubbock, “They decided to do the huge dining room walls in different Indian dances which they had seen in New Mexico. Lucille started the dining room paintings, while Holling began the cartoon sketches for the three walls of the coffee shop. It is not clear if Holling had a part in the sketching and painting of the Indian dances, if Lucille also helped with the cartoons, or if they both just worked wherever to get the job done in a short amount of time. But the postcards [with the exception noted below] are just credited to Lucille.”

Joan also mentions there is a series of paintings of Indian craftsmen, of which she has five. But, she says, “I have no idea how many different ones there are in each series.

The commentary on the back of the Yucca Kachina is interesting because the yucca was considered lucky. The back of that card states, “Indians of northern Arizona and western New Mexico (mainly Hopi and Zuni) believe in sacred Kachinas, beings who live in the spirit World. From December through July these Kachinas leave their homes to visit mankind, bringing such blessings as rain for corn crops. It is a sacred duty, fraught with risk, for pueblo men to impersonate these Kachinas in seasonal ceremonies. The performer feels that he himself becomes the spirit, having its mysterious powers, when he dons the mask. There are hundreds of Kachinas with forms of birds, animals, reptiles and natural forces. Each has its own ceremonials. Half the cultural life of these Indians revolves around spiritual values of Kachinas, their songs and dances. Kachina dolls make pueblo children familiar with each Kachina. The Kachina pictured here wears a Yucca-leaf skirt and is known as “He Who Wears a Yucca Kilt.” This useful plant has long been essential to these Indian peoples. (This one of a series of Southwest Indian dancers designed by L.W. Holling, on Yucca veneer.)”

The Corn Dancer postcard may not have been designed by Lucille Holling. While the text is similar to the others, it does not give her credit.

Joan Hoffman’s work is “ephemera archeology” of the first order – finding and securing 70-year-old postcards and archiving them for posterity. Congratulations!-