Sunday, September 25, 2011

Good Gifts and Harper’s Fool Folly

Decorated title for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly”- Harper’s Young People version (1890)

Decorated title for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly” - Twilight Land version (1894)

Sometimes Howard Pyle would alter his pictures after they were published. And in a few instances he would redo them entirely, like two for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly.” These, however, he redid not out of choice, but of necessity.

In early 1892, Pyle was assembling his latest crop of fairy tales from Harper’s Young People into a children’s book, which - he hoped - would be on sale by the following Christmas. At his request, Harper & Brothers returned his original pen and ink drawings, but in a letter of March 6 Pyle noted that he hadn’t yet received the seven for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly,” which appeared in the September 9, 1890, issue of the magazine.

Art editor Arthur B. Turnure tersely replied that they were gone.

Pyle, of course, was not happy. On March 10, 1892, he wrote:
If I may make bold to say so it impressed me as seeming just a little “cool” to tell me, without offering any explanation or remark or expression of regret, that my drawings for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly” “were not preserved”. However, it occurred to me that perhaps the many calls upon your official correspondence did not allow the use of such formal expressions and also precluded your telling me why and how the drawings were not preserved.
Pyle added that perhaps Turnure - who had only taken charge of the Art Department in November 1891 - didn’t realize that the plan all along had been to publish the stories in book form - and that, with that understanding, he had charged less than usual for the illustrations. Pyle also expressed doubts that the plates used to print the magazine could be re-used for the book, because some of the pictures had “been so reduced as to have much of the artistic quality eliminated.” And he concluded, again somewhat pissily:
I do not, of course, know just where the responsibility for the loss of the drawings belongs, but, taking for granted that the Art Department should have seen to it that they were preserved, will you kindly let me know what you propose as an alternative in the event of the photo-reproductions not being found available for the book and failing the originals being recovered?
Then it was Turnure’s turn to take offense (his reply to Pyle is missing, unfortunately). But Pyle had calmed down by March 12, and he apologized, explaining, “that I have been, perhaps, somewhat over worked of late and I am sure that you will know that overwork is somewhat apt to disturb ones poise - I know it makes me irritable.” He sheepishly figured that if he could “give up several magazine illustrations, I may find time to do my work more quietly and not be so quick to take offense for small things.”

He also pointed out that the loss of the pictures wasn’t what annoyed him so much as what - “doubtless in my haste” - he saw as Turnure’s “slighting and indifferent regard of the fact.” He went on:
You see that the matter of making up this proposed book is of considerable importance to me. I want it to be as perfect as possible and to not have any make-shift about it if it can be avoided.
However, after this uncomfortable back-and-forth - and having realized that he still needed to write and illustrate more fairy tales to flesh out the book - Pyle put the project on hold for two years. In the meantime, Turnure (by the way, a founder of The Grolier Club, of which Pyle was an early member), had left the Art Department and had gone on to found Vogue.

In a July 18, 1894, letter to Harper & Brothers, Pyle wrote that - with two exceptions - the Harper’s Young People plates for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly” could be re-used in printing the book (by then called Twilight Land), after all: “The first drawing is the decorated title, which I have re-drawn, and the other is the one which is to be used either as a tail-piece or as a final illustration - the man sitting among the rocks.”

And although those seven particular originals “were not preserved” at the Harper offices, two of them have since turned up, so perhaps they weren’t thrown out, pulped, or burned, but (as Pyle himself had theorized) they went home with an admiring member of the art staff.

“He lay there sighing and groaning” - Harper’s Young People version (1890)

“He lay there sighing and groaning” - Twilight Land version (1894)

NOTE: The original copies of the letters quoted above belong to the Morgan Library. I assume, however, that since Pyle, who died in 1911, wrote them in 1892 and 1894, I am justified in quoting them at length. But I hope that someone will alert me if my assumption is incorrect.

1 comment:

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