A Flying Writing On How The Crude Woodsman Spread His Words

Follow the Golden Rule. Love your neighbor. Show more empathy. Secure more funding for the humanities. Listen to more opera.

These are some of the answers people gave when asked what change they would make to society today. The question was posed in Publish or Perish: The Impact of Printing on the Protestant Reformation, a recent exhibition at the Ohio State University’s Thompson Library.

The exhibition commemorated the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses attacking the selling of indulgences, a practice in which sinners bought forgiveness. Luther intended to inspire debate among his Wittenberg neighbors on his notion of sola scriptura (Christian salvation was “by scripture alone”), but his action had greater consequences. It set the Protestant Reformation in motion.

Medieval and early Reformation-era printed works from the collection of Ohio State’s Rare Books & Manuscripts Library showed how printing and publishing helped Luther, his supporters and their opponents share their thoughts on these society-changing ideas. They couldn’t have done it without the help of the recently invented printing press with movable type. During the first three years of the Reformation, book production in Germany quadrupled.

Since just 10 percent of Germans were literate, sermons were effective ways to present points of view in convincing ways. After the sermons were orally delivered, they were published so they could be spread to an even wider audience. More than 100,000 copies of Luther’s famous “House Postils” sermons were published for families to read and reflect upon at home.

As public demand for Luther’s words grew, ideas were disseminated as fast as possible. Debaters on both sides of the issue relied on Flugschriften (literally, “flying writings”) to set forth their positions, respond to opposition, and appeal to all classes of society and levels of literacy. Written in the vernacular, these simple, direct pamphlets were easy to produce and afford. Many of these ephemeral documents were grouped together by theme or author, then bound together in a book called a Sammelband, which protected and preserved them.

Engaged readers often added notes, underlined text and drew attention to passages, as this annotated copy of Luther’s commentary on the Lord’s Prayer shows.

Philip Melanchthon, the man whom Luther considered his primary, indispensable partner, wrote hundreds of treatises, including the Loci communes, or Theological Commonplaces, which so epitomized Lutheran thought and belief that Luther said, “Next to Holy Scripture, there is no better book.”

“I am the crude woodsman who has to clear and make the path,” Luther said. “But Master Philip comes after me meticulously and quietly, builds and plants, sows and waters happily, according to the talents God has richly given him.”

Others did not hold Luther in similar esteem. Johannes Cochlaeus, a Catholic priest and university professor, pointed out Luther’s inconsistencies in The Seven-Headed Luther. Contradictory passages from Luther’s own texts led Cochlaeus to conclude that Luther simultaneously embodied a professor, a monk, a Turk, a preacher, a fanatic, a church visitor and a criminal, all quarreling over Christian doctrine and religious practice.

Both Catholics and Protestants died for their beliefs. This 1592 work by Richard Verstegan, chronicles the torture and murder of Catholics like this Englishwoman being pressed to death by weights.

Acts and Monuments, John Foxe’s famous collection of Christian martyrs’ lives, was so popular that it was abridged numerous times. This rare unfolded half-sheet paraphrase of Foxe’s work was formatted to allow printers to assemble 64 pages of text on one sheet of paper. It reduced the massive work to a portable, simple series of memorable rhymes chronicling the torture and death of Protestant English martyrs.

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Why Green Tigers Turned Out In Honor Of St. Patrick

Study the cartoon Jimmy Swinnerton created for the March 18, 1898 edition of the New York Journal and you’ll find some interesting Irish-American trivia to share on St. Patrick’s Day.

Swinnerton’s notorious tiger characters take to the streets for New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, carrying banners recalling popular Irish ballads like “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls” and “The Wearing of the Green,” about the Irish Rebellion of 1798, an unsuccessful uprising against British rule in Ireland. One also refers to Maggie Cline, the Vaudeville-singing daughter of Irish immigrants who was known as “The Irish Queen.”

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were an especially big deal 120 years ago. First, they commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Irish Rebellion. Second, they marked the first time St. Patrick’s Day postcards were sent, signaling Irish immigrants’ integration into American society. Cartoonists capitalized on the event.

Rudolph Dirks, the cartoonist who emigrated from Germany as a child, also depicted an Irish-American St. Patrick’s Day parade in his contribution to the March 27, 1898 edition of the New York Journal. His German-American Katzenjammer Kids marched in the parade, one dressed as the Yellow Kid. Richard Outcault’s bald-headed, big-eared immigrant cartoon character earned his name from the yellow nightshirt he wore, on which his dialogue appeared.

Looking Backward, Looking Forward: U.S. Immigration in Cartoons and Comics, an exhibition on display at the Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, explores how cartoonists have told the story of immigration throughout American history. For example, while political cartoons in newspapers portrayed immigrants as enemies or victims, the comic strip supplements that first appeared in the 1890s offered entertaining stories about immigrant life through the adventures of recurring characters.  One is Frederick Burr Opper’s Happy Hooligan, an Irish immigrant who was often misjudged because of his appearance.

Another is Jiggs, the star of George McManus’s “Bringing Up Father” comic strip. An Irish immigrant who wins the lottery and becomes part of high society, Jiggs wishes he could return to his old life and neighborhood haunts, like the Dinty Moore tavern where he ordered his favorite corned beef and cabbage in the July 12, 1930 edition of the strip.

Happy Hooligan’s popularity led Opper to create Alphonse & Gaston, that excessively polite pair of French immigrants whom my grandmother loved to quote.

Looking Backward, Looking Forward: U.S. Immigration in Cartoons and Comics continues through April 15 in the Friends of the Libraries Gallery of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

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Have You Seen The Newest Girl With Her Hair All In A Whirl?

“Have you seen the newest girl with her hair all in a whirl?,” asked Harry B. Smith in his lyrics for “The Nell Brinkley Girl,” a song from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908.

This sweet curly-haired girl was not to be missed, he continued. In fact, if you ever found one like her, you would have a pearl. With her never-failing smile, her pretty tilted nose and her mouth just like a rose, she had a certain air and style. And she wore the smartest clothes!

The Nell Brinkley girl was the creation of Nell Brinkley, a cartoonist for the New York Journal. American women were so captivated by her distinct style of clothing and hair that they even bought “Nell Brinkley” hair curlers.

Visit the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum to see Cartoon Couture and you, too, might consider reviving the Nell Brinkley look.

The exhibition pairs depictions of fashion fads, trends and innovations in cartoons, comic strips, comic books, and paper dolls with real-life examples of garments and accessories from the time period during which that artwork was produced, loaned from the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection.

It begins in the 18th century, when migration to cities sparked nostalgia for country life, classical civilization and its simple fashions. Growing industrialization and the advent of new technologies like sewing machines and chemical dyes changed how garments were produced and even designed in the 19th century. At the same time, the art of caricature and cartooning emerged. Fashion was an irresistible topic of comment in these mediums.

By the early years of the 20th century, mass-produced, ready-to-wear clothing and the rise of the department store made affordable reproductions of the latest Parisian fashions accessible to American working women. The Sunday newspaper introduced them not only to department-store advertisements for the latest ready-to-wear fashions, but also to popular syndicated cartoon characters like Richard Fenton Outcault’s Buster Brown. In this December 17, 1905 comic strip, Outcault comments on Buster Brown’s line of licensed fashion accessories.

The cartoons that Barbara Shermund and Helen Hokinson created for the New Yorker capture the personalities and fashion tastes of both independent young women…

and the well-to-do matrons who tried to keep up with them, especially with the changing trends in women’s hats.

With her “Flapper Fanny” and other cartoon characters, Ethel Hays set the standard for how young women of the 1920s and 1930s were depicted.  Gladys Parker, Hays’s successor, later created her own comic-strip version of herself, named Mopsy after her short wavy hair that looked like a mop. Parker, who studied fashion illustration, also was a fashion designer, creating costumes for Hollywood film actresses and garments that were sold in department stores under the name “Gladys Parker Designs.” The exhibition provides a QR code to watch “Femininities by Glady Parker,” a February 4, 1935 fashion show of Gladys Parker Designs in which Parker is the first to emerge from the comic strip backdrop.

Young newspaper-readers turned to the paper dolls cartoonists created in comic strips, dressing their favorite characters in new outfits every week. Dale Messick, the creator of the fashionable Brenda Starr, Reporter, designed some dreamy outfits for Brenda in both her comic strip and in its paper-doll counterpart.

From Christian Dior’s romantic, feminine “New Look” and the practical, comfortable “American Look” for suburban housewives to the blue jeans, poodle skirts and saddle shoes favored in young wardrobes, cartoonists of the 1950s explored new fashion tastes of the day. They continued doing so by documenting the individual fashion styles of the mods and hippies of the 1960s…

and the groovy 1970s… perhaps inspired by a halter top and pants designed – and given to the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection – by Oleg Cassini.

Cartoon Couture continues through April 15 in the Robinson Gallery of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

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Even With A New Look, It’s Never Any Good Trying To Be Someone Other Than Yourself

“I hate dyed hair. The color God has given to you is always the best and matches with your personality. It is never any good trying to be someone other than yourself.”

“Your way to be exclusive is to be yourself. To find in your personality the things that are different and that will make you different from everyone else. Although the scarf you wear may be one of thousands, it can still be exclusive in the way you wear it!”

“You can never take too much care in selecting shoes. Too many women think that because they are low down, shoes do not matter, but it is by her feet that you can judge whether a woman is elegant or not.” (Christian Dior)

“Don’t forget, a bag is not a wastepaper basket! You can’t fill it with a lot of unnecessary things and expect it to look nice and last a long time.”

So wrote fashion designer Christian Dior in The Little Dictionary of Fashion: A Guide to Dress Sense for Every Woman, first published in 1954.

The shy, retiring Frenchman whose haute couture creations were inspired by memories of his mother may have been famous for dressing the well-to-do, but his straight-talking approach to fashion was definitely down to earth. Any woman could be elegant without spending much money on her wardrobe, as long as she chose simple, tasteful pieces that suited her personality, flattered her, and emphasized her good features.

When the 42-year-old Dior launched his first collection of women’s clothing designs in February 1947, history was made. Gone were the practical, austere clothes of wartime, with their short, straight skirts and square-shouldered jackets, cobbled together with rationed fabric. In their place were elegant, feminine garments with tiny waists, tight-fitting bodices and rustling, full skirts. Women snapped up the “New Look.”

Dior in Ohio: 1947-1997, the current exhibition from The Ohio State University’s Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, presents Dior-designed ball gowns, daywear and suits that were worn either by Ohio women or are from the collections of Ohio museums.

The upstairs gallery features clothing and accessories from the early years of the House of Dior, as well as examples of designs from Dior’s assistant, Yves St. Laurent, who, at age 21, succeeded Dior after his sudden death in 1957.

Several items in the exhibit belonged to Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897-1990), whose husband, Harvey Firestone, Jr., ran the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. For example, this beaded satin gown Mrs. Firestone wore in 1955 to the re-opening of the Vienna Opera House is similar to one she wore to President Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953.

Mrs. Firestone would often purchase several versions of the same dress in different hues and prints.  She wore the navy silk-and-wool tailored day dress with polka dot motif and blue chiffon trim at the neck — at the center of this trio — during a trip to England for the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II. She also owned navy versions of the two day dresses flanking it.

Two of Mrs. Firestone’s Dior creations have been turned inside out to display the layers of linings and hand-finished details that define a haute couture dress. Every Dior dress is marked with ink that is only visible in ultraviolet light.

To make his designs more affordable for his American clientele, Dior created his Christian Dior-New York line. Garments in this line with an “Original” label were exact reproductions of Dior’s original Paris designs, including the actual fabrics, but were made in the United States. Only 120 retailers were allowed to carry the Dior-New York label; Ohio stores included Lazarus in Columbus, J. M. Gidding & Co. in Cincinnati and Halle Brothers in Cleveland.

The exhibition also includes Dior garments owned and worn by Dorothy Bell Peters of Lancaster, Ohio (whose husband was the last owner of the Reese-Peters House, now the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio) and her daughter, Mary Peters Bolton, whose husband was special assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to France from 1949 to 1952. Other garments belonged to Marilyn Maxwell, who modeled in New York before marrying Stewart Shillito Maxwell, whose family owned Shillito’s, the first department store in Cincinnati, and Julie Loeffell, who modeled for Dior himself in Paris.

The downstairs gallery features eveningwear created by designers following Dior and St. Laurent, as well as examples of the “little black dresses” that Dior considered the most essential piece in any woman’s wardrobe. It also highlights Dior suits, with their rounded shoulders, nipped-in waist, padded hips and calf-length pleated skirt. Later, Dior introduced skirts so slim they needed the “Dior Pleat” (a slit backed with a panel of fabric) for walking. Dior in Ohio: 1947-1997 reopens on March 20 and continues through April 28. The Snowden Galleries are on the second floor of the Geraldine Schottenstein Wing of Campbell Hall on the Ohio State University’s main campus.

For more on Christian Dior, read Dior in Vogue, by Brigid Keenan; Dior: The Legendary Images: Great Photographers and Dior, edited by Florence Müller; Christian Dior: The Man Who Made the World Look New, by Marie-France Pochna; and Girl in Dior, a graphic novel by Annie Goetzinger.


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Braided, Gimped, Or Ground Up, Hair Was Rooted In Sentimentality

“What’s the most sentimental gift you have received?,” the Royal Collection Trust tweeted on Mothering Sunday. “Queen Victoria was a sentimental mother. She had numerous lockets and pendants made containing strands of her children’s hair.”

Many of Victoria’s contemporaries followed the popular trend of hairwork, a handcrafted art form practiced from the 1850s to the 1880s to remember loved ones by creating special objects with their hair.

Hairwork jewelry collected by Chuck Miller

While we might think it’s weird, revolting, or even squeamish, hairwork was a fashionable, unique practice rooted in sentimentality.  Georgeanne Reuter, executive director of the Kelton House Museum, chose it as the featured subject for the museum’s Valentine’s Day tea.

Ladies and gentlemen alike turned to both popular magazines and craft books written by professional hairworkers to learn techniques and discover project ideas. With patience and skill, they braided strands of hair for centerpieces of fashion jewelry, wrapped and coiled it around wire to resemble flowers, and even ground it up and bound it with glue to create a painting pigment.

There were two ways to create jewelry with hair. Palette-worked hair was glued on a flat surface, cut into geometric shapes, and arranged to form patterns such as stars or crosses. Table-worked hair was braided into tightly woven, elaborate patterns. Strands of hair were threaded through a table with a domed top, laid out and weighted with wire, wood or lead, and then woven into braids and manipulated into designs of anchors, hearts and flowers. Both kinds of hairwork were then mounted into jewelry casings for rings, necklaces, earrings, brooches, stickpins, and watch fobs and chains. These finishing touches to garments were especially fashionable because human hair colors complemented the hues and textures of popular dressmaking fabrics of the day.

A fine example of a hairwork brooch is displayed in the dining room at the Kelton House.

It’s even featured in a portrait that hangs above the sideboard.

Hair was also pulverized, mixed with glue and painted onto ivory to create pictures, often mourning scenes. Strands of hair were even used for fine details such as fences and tombstone sides.

Large-scale hairwork projects often ended up on parlor walls in the form of hair wreaths. Strands of hair from multiple people were wrapped around wire and bent into loops to form “gimped” flower petals, leaves and concentric centers of flowers. When complete, the hair wreath measured from one to up to four feet in diameter and was placed in a shadowbox frame intended for the parlor wall. You can find an example of a hair wreath, together with a hairwork corsage, in the southeast bedroom on the second floor of the Kelton House.

Hairwork wasn’t the only subject for discussion at the tea, which featured apple and Stilton Welsh Rarebit bites; baked tuna cups; cheese and herb rugelach; chocolate bacon and smoked ham tea sandwiches; a Persian love frittata with walnuts and rose petals; cranberry snow cones; raspberry champagne cubes; blackberry panna cotta; chocolate cream pies; meringue Alfajore cookies; almond-topped cherry Bakewell doughnuts, and Earl Grey tea.

“Valentine’s Day and the Penny Post,” printed on the reverse of the menu, explained that Victorian Valentine cards were made from flat paper sheets with colored illustrations and embossed borders, and then were folded, sealed with wax, and mailed. Since postal charges were once calculated by distance and the number of pages sent, rather than by weight, sending something a long way could cost more than a worker’s daily wage. That changed on January 10, 1840, when the Uniform Penny Post was introduced. That year, Valentines could be mailed anywhere in Great Britain for one penny. The response was so great that postmen received a special allowance for refreshments to see them through the Valentine’s Day rush.

For more on hairwork, see Self-Instructor in the Art of Hair Work, Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, Braids, and Hair Jewelry of Every Description, an 1867 publication by Mark Campbell. The Art of Hair Work: Hair Braiding and Jewelry of Sentiment with a Catalog of Hair Jewelry, by Mark Campbell, As Supplemented with Excerpts from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine, edited by Jules and Kaethe Kliot, is another compilation of hairwork techniques.

Woven Strands: The Art of Human Hair Work at the Mütter Museum will be on exhibit at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia through July 12, 2018. A weekend of hairwork programming is planned for April 7-8, including a workshop on creating hairwork and a symposium in which collectors, artists and historians will discuss hairwork. John Whiteknight, one of the creators of the exhibit, wrote a chapter on hairwork in his book, Under Glass: A Victorian Obsession.

Hairwork is a research interest of Helen Sheumaker, senior lecturer in Miami University’s history department and American Studies program.  Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hairwork in America is her book on the subject.

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“Curiose Geschichte” And “Glückes Genughat”: Bexley Scenes From Childhood

Slice a banana in half lengthwise, top it with chopped peanuts and a dollop of pastel-tinted mayonnaise, and you’ve created one of my favorite dishes: the banana nut salad from the Willard Restaurant, a fixture of the Bexley, Ohio community from 1925 until it closed in 1988.

Robert Schumann captured his boyhood memories in Scenes from Childhood, that nostalgic set of 13 piano pieces he composed in 1838. Willard’s menu staple is one of many “Curiose Geschichte” (curious stories), but also “Glückes genughat” (quite happy) things that could inspire my own composition of childhood memories I made along East Main Street, the main drag of the suburban Columbus neighborhood that was founded in 1908.

Tasty as it was, the banana nut salad couldn’t top spending time in the Bexley Public Library’s children’s room.  I was a fixture there, from playing with its dollhouse in June 1972…

to reading at its desks there in September 1974.

I was fascinated by Mother and Child, a bronze sculpture by Ebb Haycock that was installed in front of the library in 1968.

At Evans and Schwartz Shoes, I was fitted for my saddle shoes with their corrective “cookies.” I waited my turn at office of Dr. Joseph Van Balen, Jr., D.D.S., playing with toys and reading picture books under the encouraging glance of a young cowboy pictured on a sign that read, “I’ll take care of this, Mom.” I got my first haircuts at Paul & Vic’s Hairdressers, which Paul Pasini owned from 1941 until 2004; his brother, Victor, joined him there in 1946. I browsed for embroidered Portuguese handkerchiefs after school at The Linen Tree. And I watched the clock at Paul’s Food Shoppe, the grocery that operated from 1929 until 1997.  The original clock is still there.

Banana nut salads aren’t the only food favorites I discovered in Bexley. No pizza tastes as good as the signature cornmeal-dusted thin crusts served at Rubino’s, which stay warm under white-paper tents until they reach home. At Johnson’s Real Ice Cream, the fourth-generation family business that still has its original door from 1950, I developed a penchant for lemon ice cream, “party slices” (rectangles of Johnson’s signature vanilla ice cream decorated with icing stencils) and Nutty Buddies (vanilla ice cream, rolled in nuts and dipped in chocolate, and served on a sugar cone).

I ordered egg salad sandwiches and milkshakes at Wentz Pharmacy, the neighborhood drugstore and soda fountain. Established by Roy Wentz, Sr. in 1925, Wentz’s was best known for delivering ice cream to customers in Harley Davidson motorcycles with refrigerated compartments. Wentz’s closed in 1989, but the building — complete with its original molded tin ceiling and similar exterior signage —- has been the Bexley location of Graeter’s Ice Cream since 1991.

I also had a brush with fame in Bexley. On October 27, 1981, I met Ginger Rogers when she introduced her 1935 film, Top Hat, at the reopening of the restored Drexel Theater, the Art Deco landmark with the iconic marquee that has been showing movies and independent art films since it opened on Christmas Day 1937.

But the best finds I’ve made lately in Bexley have been at Gramercy Books, an independent bookstore offering books, magazines and book-themed gifts for all ages. From literary fiction and narrative nonfiction to bestsellers and books about music and musicians, this inviting place includes a café that serves breakfast items, snacks, coffee and Kittie’s cupcakes.  

Gramercy hosts special events, monthly book discussions, poetry readings, evenings with songwriters, and visits by authors such as Jennifer Chiaverini, who recently published Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter and the world’s first computer progammer. Laurel Davis Huber, author of The Velveteen Daughter, — a novel based on the true story of Margery Williams Bianco, the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, and her daughter, famed child prodigy artist Pamela Bianco — also visited Gramercy recently.

For more on Bexley, see Images of America: Bexley, by the Bexley Historical Society, and Columbus Neighborhoods: Bexley, a production of WOSU-TV. And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship, is a memoir by award-winning journalist and bestselling author Bob Greene, who grew up in Bexley. 

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Pounding The Pavement For Pioneer Pathways: Now That’s Public Relations!

When I was 23 and just starting a career in public relations, I wrote a corporate history, chose holiday cards and gifts for clients, and handled seminar logistics — all standard tricks of the practice development trade.

Sixty years earlier, in 1934, another 23-year-old public relations practitioner named Reeves Lewenthal came up with a brilliant idea to promote artists: to produce and sell limited-edition prints, not in art galleries, but in department stores and through a mail-order catalog. Appreciating and collecting high-quality art, he believed, was an enriching opportunity for everyone, not just the wealthy.

Artwork created by those he promoted was featured in Associated American Artists: Art By Subscription, a recent exhibit I saw in its waning days at Capital University’s Schumacher Gallery.

Lewenthal’s plan involved publishing limited editions of 250 prints, each signed by the artist. All prints would be sold for $5 (or six for $25), a cost that was much cheaper than other limited-edition prints. He would take care of the printing and marketing costs, as well as a small bonus to artists who printed their own editions. Artists would receive $200 for each published edition.

Arkansas Evening, by Thomas Hart Benton, whom Harry Truman described as “the best damned painter in America.”

He pitched his idea to about 750 promising artists; just 40 agreed to give it a try. Some of those artists included Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, Regionalist artists whose work captured life in rural America.

And so, in 1934, Associated American Artists began in New York City.

Lewenthal enticed average Americans to buy these prints through newspaper and magazine advertisements. He traversed the country by bus, pitching his idea to mount traveling exhibits in department stores, high schools, hotels, social clubs and businesses. And he put together a mail-order catalog called Bringing American Art to Americans. Mailed in envelopes decorated with reproductions of drawings by AAA artists, and accompanied by a letter from Lewenthal, the catalog included a short biographical essay on each artist, as well as lists of museums that had accessioned AAA prints into their own collections. Each print came with a label identifying the title, artist, medium and biographical information about the artist, to facilitate display in the home.

Cover, Bringing American Art to Americans

Two years later, AAA began suggesting ways collectors could display the prints in their homes and offering advice on “how to dress up awkward spots.” It also offered easy-to-use “Braquette” frames to hang the prints on their walls, as well as storage containers to protect them when they weren’t on display. It published Understanding Prints, a book by Aline Kistler. Always eager to hear from his customers, Lewenthal invited them to send him photographs of their displays.

Lewenthal constantly exhibited his savvy public-relations skills. He encouraged Life, McCall’s and other popular magazines to illustrate articles with AAA prints. Book publishers commissioned AAA artists to illustrate volumes such as Rivers of America, a 64-book series published between 1937 and 1974, and Hal Borland’s An American Year: Country Life and Landscapes through the Seasons. He enticed companies like Sears Roebuck, Standard Oil and Maxwell House to commission AAA art not only for advertising campaigns, but also for their corporate art collections. And he convinced motion picture publicists to hire AAA artists to create images for movie posters, as Twentieth Century Fox did by hiring Benton to create promotional images of the main characters in The Grapes of Wrath.

Seaside Nomads, by Lawrence Beall Smith

He even directed the War Department’s Art Advisory Committee, leading his artists to create war bonds posters and document wartime combat and military life during World War II, such as in Benton’s The Year of Peril series. Lawrence Beall Smith collaborated with pharmaceuticals company Abbott Laboratories to cover the Medical Corps in Europe. 

By 1946, AAA was reproducing works of art on greeting cards, gift wrap, calendars, maps, playing cards, and Gelatones, color reproductions of paintings from museums and private collections that were made with a gelatin-coated plate. It also offered an affordable line of ceramic pieces designed, decorated and signed by its artists — and then advertised them in decorating magazines like Better Homes & Gardens and House Beautiful. AAA artists brought color to postwar American life by creating textiles for clothing and Catalina swimwear. For example, “Pioneer Pathways,” a series of eight fabric designs inspired by American history and folklore, included Grant Wood’s The Ride of Paul Revere.

The Approaching Storm, by Grant Wood

Following his success with mail-order prints, Lewenthal opened a gallery in New York City where visitors could meet artists and admire their art. In these neutrally furnished, comfortable spaces, customers could leisurely stroll through eight exhibition spaces filled with $5 prints, Gelatones alike and original watercolors and oil paintings. The gallery also had a custom framing area, an art library staffed with a librarian, and a private showroom for viewing works one at a time.

Associated American Artists continued until 2000. For more, read Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists, 1934-2000, edited by Elizabeth G. Seaton, Jane Myers and Gail Windisch.

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