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Friday, June 12, 2015

Readers Write and a Home Is Found for HCH’s Art

It’s nice to hear that we’re adding just a bit more to the body of work attributed to Mr. Holling.  Deb, a reader, reports that she discovered our blog “while searching for information about the Kitchen Klenzer Circus items I had purchased at an estate sale.”  She had planned to sell them on eBay

 First sold in 1908, Kitchen Klenzer is an example of an early packaged product whose illustrated label, in attempting to depict the product “in use,” wound up creating a recursive “Droste Effect.” (Named after  Droste cocoa, which was packaged in a similarly recursive illustrated container.)  It was sold largely through newspaper advertising, and here is where Holling’s Circus promoted the product.

Deb got in touch with the inimitable research and museum curator Joan Hoffman.  She read the August 2011 post, she says, “That [Joan] had the elephant but not his blanket, and I had two blankets but no elephant, I started researching your museum and found you had a Facebook page and sent a message asking if you still needed that blanket and offered to donate it.”  Then, charitably, she says, “I had many more pieces than you did I decided not to list it on eBay but donate it all to you.  Until I found the circus at that sale I knew nothing of Mr. Holling.  I only bought it because I was charmed by the colors and the detail of the illustration — and I thought it would sell.

 Joan sent me a note recently, saying, “Thanks for steering this lady to us.  I put together the Kitchen Klenzer Circus elephant and camel this week and they now reside in the museum.  She had the camel, zebra, and lion cutouts.  Although she didn't have the elephant, for some reason there were two elephant blankets in the estate package she bought.  She also had the display box.  She walked in to the museum a week ago Thursday and gave it all to us.  It was unbelievable.”

 Little stories like this, where pieces of paper and advertising ephemera find a permanent home, make me happy.  Small events can make a difference.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Who Was That Writer with the Odd Name?

A note from Joan Hoffman at the museum in Lisle, Mich., intrigued me regarding Watty Piper and the publisher, Platt & Munk. Who was this prolific writer and where did Holling Clancy Holling fit into the publishing scheme?

Joan wrote, “I want to clarify about the text and illustrations in Children of Other Lands. The Hollings (Holling and Lucille) painted those full-page colored illustrations and drew all the marginal drawings. The plates for those were full-page illustrations originally used for the covers of Junior Home Magazine. Holling had a short story to go with each of those covers that appeared on one of the first pages of the magazine.”

She continues, “During the Depression, Junior Home Magazine went out of business. Platt and Munk bought those beautiful plates and used them in Little Folks of Other Lands (1929) and Children of Other Lands (1933). Holling's short stories were rewritten and made longer. Watty Piper was the writer. That was a pseudonym.” And, she added, “I have heard the pseudo writer could be one of a couple possibilities so I can't give you a definitive answer on that.”

A quick search of the Internet reveals “Watty Piper” was actually Arnold Munk, a Hungarian immigrant who co-counded Platt & Munk, the publishing house in Chicago, and served as in-house editor. He was best known for retelling the story of The Little Engine That Could in 1930 and selling millions of copies. Platt & Munk today is a subsidiary of Penguin Books.

Now the story becomes interesting, but confusing:

Enter Eulalie (pron. Ú-la-lee) Page. She was born Eulalie Banks on June 12, 1895, to Marie Minfied and Frederick Francis Banks, the youngest of nine children; in Southeast London, England. “All sources indicate that she had a real love and talent for illustrating from a very early age,” reported Kay Vandergrift of Rutgers University ( At age 15, Eulalie “landed her first job as an illustrator for a children's page in a woman's magazine,” Vandergrift wrote. “At age 18, the book titled, Bobby in Bubbleland, became her first published work. She was both author and illustrator.” (Ms. Vandergrift, professor emerita at Rutgers, died July 1, 2014.)

Platt & Munk commissioned her in 1925 to illustrate the book, The Cock, The Mouse, and The Little Red Hen, edited by Watty Piper (presumably Arnold Munk). It was her first book published in the United states and the first of many published by Platt & Munk. In all, Eulalie illustrated some 53 mostly inexpensive children’s books, a good share published by Platt & Munk.

Among the works listed by Vandergrift under her résumé, however, is Children of Other Lands, written by Watty Piper and published by Platt & Munk in 1933. This may be in error, however, because both Holling and his wife, Lucille, are listed as the illustrators of the book now in print and available on Amazon.

A follow-up conversation with Joan reveals the original book, Little Folks of Other Lands (1929) published by Platt & Munk, became Children of Other Lands (1933) with six fewer full-colored illustrations and lacking the Hemisphere maps on the front and back inside covers.

The original Road in Story Land (1932) has a red & blue edition (arranged in different order). It became Folk Tales Children Love (1934) and Magic Story Tree (1964). The latter two books are the same except the stories are arranged in different order and have five fewer stories than the original Road in Story Land.

“So,” she writes, “one might think there are six different books while all the material comes from the two originals.” Confusing, or simply good marketing?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

I Was Wrong: Holling Art Does “Just Turn Up”

One of the satisfying elements of writing the Holling blog is that mysteries present themselves and, often, they’re solved.  I received a letter this month asking about an 11 x 14” picture — originally rendered in ink and colored charcoal or pastels — in an old frame that was discarded in Florida.  The only identification was the imprint “Mountain View” and the publisher “Platt & Munk.” 


“Possibly,” the writer suggested, “it might be an unused scene from [Holling’s 1936] Book of Cowboys … because the art style is strikingly similar and fits the storyline.  Or, it might have been an original background mockup.”

 The resident expert in this case, Joan Hoffman of the Leslie, Mich., museum, came to the rescue.  She noted that the museum has a package of 12 illustrations about Children of Other Lands.”   The publisher’s name appears in the bottom left, she adds, but only on the envelope is it noted that the illustrations are by Holling C. Holling.

Also in the museum’s collection is a box of six Indian jigsaw puzzles and a box of six Cowboy puzzles.  Same identification of publisher and illustrator on the box.  If the mystery art is not from the puzzles or the book, perhaps this is an outtake — a piece Holling produced but was sold singly by P&M.  Joan Hoffman states, “The publisher was within its right [to publish the art], but profited more than the Hollings did…in these examples and their other work.”

So, art detectives, keep your eyes peeled!  Someday we may have a definitive catalogue raisonné of all the commercial art that Holling and his wife, Lucille, produced.
A comparison of the mystery art (right) with similar Holling
technique in rendering landscape and trees.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Roughing It, Returning Alive, and Writing – part 2

Along with camping and boating, the Hollings became adept at recognizing edible wild foods and cooking under primitive conditions.  Not to be outdone when Holling was away from camp, Lucille became motivated to study wild foods, including mushrooms, and create her own recipes.  At times, the Hollings did live off the land, killing animals for food — never for sport.  This is why they also lived for a while with Native Americans to learn how they interacted with the environment.

In 1922, they lived with the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and wrote:

“Recently we ate with a pueblo family.  We sat on the black adobe floor worn almost to a glaze by moccasin-soles.  Among us, in the center, a shallow basket of delightful design cradled a cascade of breads.  Flat round breads of corn meal baked on hot rocks.  Tortilla, these were.  Then there were the huge puffballish loaves of a whiteness which had been baked in the Eskimo-igloo affairs out front.  And we had goat’s milk in painted mugs.  And bowls of chili.  And green peppers and thin plates of venison haunch, squash and beans.  And now I ask you.  If you had gone most of a sun-scorched day over desert with no water – would you elevate your nose at this menu?  Yet some speak of “Poor, Starving Lo.”

In similar auto-didactic fashion, Holling learned to paddle a canoe like a Native American, portage, craft bow and arrows, chip arrowheads, twist fish lines from the inner bark of basswood saplings, make bone fish hooks, tan leather sew it with sinew, and make makaks from birch bark in which to cook and store food.  Lucille learned the art of porcupine quill embroidery and making r4obes from rabbit skins and turkey feathers.  A good deal of this information can be found in the Hollings’ Book of Indians.

 It also proved their generosity when they taught these skills to Native Americans who had forgotten their own heritages.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Roughing It, Returning Alive, and Writing – part 1

Holling’s art and writing was closely intertwined with his naturalism.  He — and in fairness, his wife, Lucille — were people of the outdoors beginning with his early jaunts camping in New Mexico and exploring places like the Mississippi River. 

 We’re lucky to have the Master’s thesis written by Hazel Gibb Hinman in 1958 at the University of Redlands, California, to chronicle some of the Hollings’ activities.  Through her interviews we learn that in August 1927, Holling and Lucille took a three-week canoe trip into the Canadian wilderness north of Missinabie, Ontario.  They were joined by Tom Brown, a reporter for the New York Sun, whom they had met on their world cruise.

 Camping and canoeing over the next decade contributed to the Hollings’ graphic work for Cunard lines, the Saturday Evening Post, advertising, newspaper features and illustration for Bookhouse and Book Trails.

Holling became an “expert,” Gibb says, joining a boat club, racing canoes and shells, and learning survival techniques if the worst happened.  Holling insisted Lucille become a good swimmer, and they kept a canoe at Chicago’s Lincoln Park on Lake Michigan.  Perversely, Holling liked to go out on the lake during a “blow” when bad weather hit.  Gibb surmises that Holling felt he needed to battle the elements in order to portray them vividly and accurately in his writing and art.  Lucille said she could look at the whitecaps on the lake from their window in the Palmolive Building, and one wonders how she felt at those times. 

Holling recalled one such instance when he paddled about two miles out on the lake in rotten weather.  Returning, he noticed a crowd on shore.  Getting closer he saw an angry police officer.  Gibb says of Holling, “Still panting from exertion, the [Irish] policeman gestured wildly and commanded him to come in immediately.  ‘Don’t you know that you might have been drowned!’” 

Holling said he didn’t know quite what to do, so to gain time to think, he yelled back, “Let me rest a minute.  I’m fagged!” 

Shortly thereafter, the policeman had cooled off and Holling could explain the situation.  He told Gibb he still thought long afterwards that the cop might have arrested him if he had gone ashore immediately.

 What might have proven embarrassing in the 1920s would today would become the source of publicity, promotion, and Twitter bragging rights.

Hazel Gibb Hinman’s [1910-2004] thesis dissertation became a book, published by the University of Redlands in 1958 and titled The Lives and Works of Holling Clancy Holling.