Little Mysteries

Before anything goes on view at the Museum, curators do a lot of research. In the case of our illustration collection, we research the original publications which were illustrated by the pictures in the collection, as well as the careers of the artists. Identifying the story (or poem or advertisement) helps us to understand the illustrator’s decisions.

Thanks to decades of research by curators and librarians here, we know where most (literally thousands!) of DelArt’s original illustrations appeared. However, there are still mysteries to be solved, and I love to investigate. When I have free time, that’s where you’ll find me—online or in the stacks trying to identify where the Museum’s illustrations appeared. I hesitate to put works on view until I fully identify them, but this August I gave in. In the Peggy Woolard Gallery of American illustration, three lovely ink drawings are hanging through early December. Elegantly finished and carefully signed, each appears ready for publication, but despite years in the collection, none of the publications have been identified.  

Henrietta Adams McClure’s At Dawn is a stellar ink drawing that demonstrates her specialty in fairy subjects for children. The delicate, decorative patterning of the foliage reflects what she learned at Moore College and from Howard Pyle. (If you come see her drawing, don’t miss the chance to walk around the wall and compare it to Pyle’s richly patterned images of Sir Launcelot.) At Dawn didn’t appear in her most famous book commission, Rachel Varble’s The Red Cape, nor have I found the title in my searches of magazines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And Google image search has failed so far (though I try it every couple of months). Children’s books have not been digitized as widely as other books, and DelArt doesn’t have a huge collection of them, so it could certainly be hiding in one of those. At Dawn might have been a design for a greeting card or calendar, which are even harder to find. McClure was a successful illustrator, so I have faith that this mystery will be solved one day. Perhaps you have a book she illustrated on your shelf? Give it a look and let me know!

McClure’s mystery drawing is accompanied by two others: Pierrot and Columbine and The Black Cat. Each is inscribed on the back by Frances M. Call of Haddonfield, New Jersey. Nothing is known of Call, and it’s possible the charming drawings—which also appear influenced by Pyle and other turn-of-the-century illustrators—may not have been published. (There are no notes or measurements in the margins, which can indicate that a drawing was published.) With their careful notations of Call’s contact information, these could have been submissions to an exhibition or samples sent to an art editor. We may never know, but I’m inviting you to research with me. Maybe we can solve a little mystery together.

Heather Campbell Coyle
Curator of American Art

At Dawn, not dated. Henrietta Adams McClure (1876–1945). Ink on illustration board, 15 1/16 x 12 inches. Delaware Art Museum, Acquired through the estate of Frieda Becher.