Friends Helped Art Wood’s Collection Grow

Posted September 3, 2003 at 3:17pm

Despite its massive size and scope, there’s really just a single description for the Library of Congress’ newest collection of illustration and cartoon art: hand-picked.

The 36,000-item collection, donated to the Library in August, is the result of more than six decades of work by J. Arthur Wood Jr., himself a political cartoonist.

Wood began his collection when he was 12 years old, and in the years since has grown his compilation of political cartoons, comic strips, animation cells, illustrations and other works by combing through the personal works of his contemporaries and selecting prize examples of their works.

“Doing what you like to do is always a delight and pleasure,” Wood remarked in late August at a press conference announcing the Library’s acquisition.

Much of his collection, Wood explained, has come through his fellow artists, who would ask him if he wanted to select from their work as they readied their collections for donation to their respective alma maters.

One such instance occurred as legendary cartoonist Rube Goldberg prepared to give his collection to the University of California in 1964, Wood recalled.

The collector spent an entire weekend thumbing through the collection, taking with him both recent works and even Goldberg’s first drawing for the San Francisco Chronicle, where he worked early in his career.

“I’ve tried to do this with most of the artists of America,” said Wood, whose career included stints at the now-defunct Washington Evening Star, Richmond News Leader and Pittsburgh Press.

Prior to donating his collection, Wood displayed the artwork in shows around the world, and also founded the National Gallery of Caricature and Cartoon Art, which closed its doors in 1997.

Among the selections from about 2,800 artists — a formal exhibit will go up in 2005, and select images are now available on the Library’s Web site, www.loc.gov — are animation cells from Walt Disney’s 1937 animated motion picture “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and a line drawing used in Winsor McCay’s 1914 “Gertie the Dinosaur,” the first commercially successful animated film.

There are also political cartoons and illustrations by Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly, Homer Davenport of Hearst newspapers, and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Jay Norwood, and comic strips, such as Richard Outcault’s “The Yellow Kid,” George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat,” Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” and Hal Foster’s “Prince Valiant.”

Wood’s donation will nearly double the Library’s cartoon art and caricature collection and will significantly bolster the Library’s illustrated art collection, noted Sara Duke, the Library’s assistant curator for popular and applied graphic art.

Among the notable additions, she said, are the early works of female illustrators, such as Katharine Pyle and Nell Brinkley, who were often ignored in their field.

Librarian of Congress James Billington, who referred to Wood as “a collector without equal,” said the newly acquired works will also serve as an educational resource.

“Teachers constantly ask us to add more cartoons to our American Memory Web site … This type of material has been found particularly useful in the classroom,” Billington said.