fredag 15 augusti 2014

A continuous quest for quality

When Gustaf Tenggren arrived in New York City, NY, in 1923, one of the first clients that hired him was the publisher Houghton Mifflin in Boston, MA.
Already the first year, he illustrated four of their children's books:

  • Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales by Nathanael Hawthorne
  • A Boy of the Lost Crusade by Agnes Danforth Hewes
  • The Christ Story for Boys and Girls by Abrahm Mitrie Rihbany
  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Especially the last of them seems to have made a lasting impression on the editors. In May 1925, Tenggren received a proposal to make a cover for a book Katherine Newlin Burt, "Quest". The editor, Mr. Scaife, describes it very thoroughly so Tenggren will get the full picture:
"Roughly speaking the point of the story to illustrate is this: A young man in his twenties, fair haired, handsome, who has been discontented with what life has given him, has gone through the paces which young men do go through in these modern times and has turned to religion as a seeker after God."
"He is waiting and hoping for some revelation and he apparently sits for hours at a time in a pair of heavy white stained trousers and heavy white sweater and his curly blond hair free from any cap or covering smoking his pipe and looking down on his little world thinking."
The figure should, of course, be prominent but not so prominent but what the scenery and the bigness of the scene should play its important part in the picture."
After a very detailed description of how he wants the image to look, he concludes:
"You are my first selection for the subject and the reason is the delightful quality of the two pictures in HEIDI, one the effect of the children in the mountains, the other the old man and little Heidi."
He wants the artwork executed within two to three weeks, and refers to the price per color illustration for HEIDI as he proposes the payment: $100.
The conditions were accepted and the painting delivered in due time.
Katharine Newling Burt: Quest. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1925
I think the cover has everything Mr. Scaife asked for, which illustrates some of the versatility Tenggren had and which made him so successful during the start-up of his early career in the USA. Accordingly, already the same fall, he was offered a new commission: Frances Courtenay Baylor's Juan and Juanita, published in 1926.
In 1927 he illustrates a book by the Swedish author Laura Fitinghoff, The Children of the Barren Moore. It's a story about seven poor orphan siblings, struggling through a harsh winter by the help of a goat. 
In 1929 Tenggren sums up the decade and his row of commissions for Houghton Mifflin with a schoolbook. Emma Miller Bolenius' and Marion George Kellogg's Mother Goose is a reader but stuffed with small educational tasks for the children. A great wrap-up for a long-lasting cooperation, ending just as the depression strikes. 

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