Pigtails’ 5th Anniversary: Two Great American Illustrators

(Last Updated On: June 17, 2017)

Looking back at Pigtails in Paint’s history, it really is remarkable that we should be here now. There were so many things that could have gone wrong and, thanks to a number of guardian angels, we have been able to persevere. But apart from all that, the most remarkable quirk of fate was the partnership between Pip and me. Remove one of us from the equation and, almost certainly, there would be no Pigtails today. I never intended to run a website like this and if Pip had not invited me to join him, I probably never would have. And if I had not come along when I did, the site may never have developed its chorus of contributors—both visible and invisible. Even though Pip is officially gone, I must assure our readers that he keeps an ever vigilant eye on his baby and his influence will continue to be felt for a long time. Now for the present: I would like to thank Christian for his meticulous work as Editor and the multitude of others for their leads, materials, research, feedback, translating services and technical services that have kept things going.

On that note, I would like to present two images and stories by arguably the United States’ best child illustrators: Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Willcox Smith. One day, both of these artists will get the full coverage they deserve but, for now, I would like to offer this tantalizing sample. There is a rare book featuring illustrations by these two women called The Book of the Child (1903) with text written by Mabel Humphrey and published by the Frederick A. Stokes Company. Because the book does not cover the more popular children’s tales, it is virtually unknown and has not received the recognition it deserves. It also distinguishes itself by having the stories inspired by the illustrations instead of the other way around. When I saw the title of the first story, it was a signal to me that this book should be the cornerstone of this anniversary post.

Elizabeth Shippen Green - A Tale of a Pigtail (1903)

Elizabeth Shippen Green – A Tale of a Pigtail (1903)

A Tale of a Pigtail

 Snip, snip, snip, squeaked the shears; down to the floor slipped a thick braid of soft brown hair; and Mary gave a startled gasp as she looked down at it. A sob rose in her throat as she glanced at herself in the mirror.
“I don’t care,” she sniffed, which really meant that she cared very much; “now the boys can’t call me ‘pigtail’ and ‘cowstail’, cause I haven’t any tail at all.”
“Hey, Jimmy!” she called from the window, “who’s a pigtail now?” and shook her short locks savagely.
The answer came quick and clear, “Bobtail! Bobtail! Bob—”; but the rest of the word was lost in the bang of the window and a burst of tears.
At that moment Auntie Brown came hurrying into the room, and, seeing the poor shorn lamb sobbing her small heart out gathered her lovingly into comfortable arms.
“Never mind, Sweetie.” she cooed soothingly. “Auntie won’t scold about the hair, dear heart”, (this, as the small hands clutched wildly at the docked head), “though she is sorry. Jimmy shan’t ever call you names again,” and very gently Auntie coaxed the small visitor back into smiles.
All day long Mary lingered near her aunt, however. The grey branches beckoned gaily to her from the golden sunlight, and the bright flowers nodded encouragingly; but these held no temptation for her while the boys were outside and a possible “Bobtail” rang in her ears.
Searching for something with which to amuse herself she came at last upon Uncle’s set of beautiful chessmen and soon had a small ivory family in the midst of dinners, dances and many gaieties. In her excitement Mary forgot that the chessmen were forbidden to her small fingers—forgot, too, that the books she had used for the houses were Uncle’s choicest. Everything in fact was lost in the “fun” she was having.
“Come on, Mary,” called Jimmy, peering through the long window. “Come play horse,” but Mary shook her head.
“Lemme play with you, then.”
The head shook harder than before, and Jimmy turned away cross and hurt. If Mary only couldn’t play with the chessmen, perhaps she might come out and play with him. “Couldn’t,” and suddenly remembering his father’s command, the little boy rushed eagerly off to find him, a plan—rather selfish, I fear, stirring busily in his small brain.
A few moments later Jessie was startled by her Uncle’s voice stern and cold. “Mary!” was all it said, but it was enough; she remembered now.
“Oh, Uncle Jim,” she wailed, “I won’t ever do it again, but my hair—” she faltered. “I quite forgot!”
There was no doubting the earnest little face upturned to him, and remembering the sorry tale of woes Auntie had told him not long before, Uncle Jim turned away with a smile, only telling Mary to put the chessmen away carefully.
Having done so, Mary, with flashing eyes, marched out on the piazza, and, spying the object of her search, her wrath took shape.
Jimmy Brown!” and Mary’s voice trembled with rage. “You called me pigtail, which I wasn’t, an’a cowstail, which I wasn’t. Then when I wouldn’t come out to an’ play, you ‘membered about the chessmen, an’ told! An’ that’s a—telltale!”
With a break in the angry voice Mary turned to go; but at a bound Jimmy was at her side. “I’m drefful sorry, Mary,” he began—
“Nem mind, Jimmy,” said the little girl. “So am I. Let’s play horse.”

Some of you may note that Humphreys made a continuity error in mentioning the name “Jessie” instead of “Mary”. I believe it was her intent to use the illustrators’ names in the stories and she got a little mixed up. An interesting coincidence is that this book should arrive at my doorstep only one day after publishing the ‘Chess’ post. The next story—the last in the book—may seem out of place in February but I do find myself humming Christmas carols at all times of the year.

Jessie Willcox Smith - A Real Santa Claus (1903)

Jessie Willcox Smith – A Real Santa Claus (1903)

A Real Santa Claus

 “O dear!” sighed Elizabeth. “I don’t b’lieve Sandy Claus’ll ever come.”
She pressed her round little nose against the cold window pane and peered up and down the street, as if she half expected to see Mr. Santa himself under the gas lamps.
Very quietly she had crept into the dark drawing-room this Christmas eve, for perhaps—one of those exciting chances it was!—perhaps Nursey would’nt find her. And then? Well, then she would sit up and see Santa Claus come down the chimney.
Nursey did find her, however, and very soon Elizabeth was snug in bed, though not by any means asleep. As soon as she was alone in the dark, up popped her head like a lively”Jack-in-the-box,” the little white-clad shoulders following. And Elizabeth waited.
It was very still in the dark room, and once or twice the drowsy eyelids drooped; but she propped them up with two chubby fingers and kept the brown eyes turned anxiously toward the fireplace.
Could he crawl down it, she wondered. He was fat and had a pack, a great large one with dolls, an’ candie, an’ ev’thing. Yes, an’ kittens! He might break the dollies if he should squeeze. S’posen he couldn’t
Suddenly Elizabeth’s heart gave a quick thump as the door opened softly, letting in enough light to show a grey head peeping through the crack. The head had a beard, too, just like the pictures, and the broad shoulders wore a great coat white with snow.
“Creak,” said the door, while it opened wide enough to let all of the large figure slip into the room.
At the sound, Santa Claus—for it must be he thought Elizabeth—jumped, as she did when Mother caught her taking lumps of sugar, and looked cautiously around to see if she had heard. All was quiet, however, and after stopping an instant to make sure she had not wakened, he stole quietly over to the chimney-place, carrying in each hand a small stocking, stuffed to the toe and bulging in the queerest of shapes. These he hung in front of the chimney; then tiptoed out into the hall again.
As he closed the door Elizabeth heard him whisper: “she didn’t wake,” and he called her mama “Lil” and kissed her.
“Hm,” she mused drowsily, “I knowed he couldn’t get down that little chimney. Guess he didn’t see I was awake; must have lef’ his pack an’ cap downstairs, I fink.” The sleepy eyes closed, and Elizabeth drifted softly away into Dreamland.
The next morning early, a bright voice chirped: “Merry Christmas, Mudder. I saw Sandy Claus! Bolstered up in Mother’s bed she told her story, between squeals of delight at the treasures Santa had left.
At breakfast she found a new grandfather, arrived the night before from his home in San Francisco, and such fun as they had all day together. At dinner Grandfather carved the great turkey, and gave her both fat “drumsticks” and the wish-bone. In the afternoon they had a sleighride, and Elizabeth “drove” the horses with the jingling sleighbells, almost by herself.
In the evening they made merry over the twinkling Christmas tree, and before bed-time she told Grandfather “she loved him, an’ he looked jes’ like her Sandy Claus.” When he answered that he “wondered” if little owls could see in the dark, his eyes twinkled so merrily, like the pictures again, the she almost thought he must be Santa Claus.
And sometimes when Christmas comes around, bringing her many beautiful gifts, she thinks so still.

2 thoughts on “Pigtails’ 5th Anniversary: Two Great American Illustrators

  1. CONGRATULATIONS on the fifth anniversary of the site!
    Ron, I hope you will get a chance to cover some of the various things that we have talked about.

    • Thank you. I hope in another 5 years, I can honestly say I am keeping up with all the leads. Many readers have been very generous about offering assistance. I would like to spread the work out and I could really use some help just getting some odd jobs done for the sake of Pigtails. I am also planning to reorganize the site’s pages to make it easier for readers to track what we are working on and what we have and don’t have with respect to ongoing projects. So at some point the ‘Community’ tab is going to change to ‘Help Wanted’ with sub-pages that show the status of various projects, and what jobs are needed by volunteers. The sub-page covering ongoing unpublished projects will be called ‘The Pipeline’. I managed to organize my scattered leads during the Christmas holiday but there is more to do. Thank you for your support, -Ron

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