Background of the Collection
Helen Card formed the core of the American Illustration Collection, the majority of which physically resides at Seneca's York University Campus in Toronto, Ontario, but also at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. Helen Card was a book dealer in New York City who specialized in American Illustration. Eric Harvie, a long-standing patron and friend of Ms. Card, bought the collection in 1969 when she was no longer able to actively continue her business. Many of the drawings (ie., the Frosts) had been purchased from Ms. Card in this last total sale. For insurance purposes, the drawings paintings, and even reproductions and supplemental materials were photographed, and these were placed with cataloging sheets into binders.
In 1979 the drawings were moved to the Glenbow Museum and stored in the art storage area. In the Summer of 2017 a large portion of the collection was donated to Seneca College, to be stewarded and used by Seneca Libraries and the Faculty of Communication, Arts and Design under the direction of Seneca Archivist Sean Hayes.
Scope and Content of the Collection
The American Illustration Collection includes over 4,000 drawings and paintings, roughly between the dates of 1850 and 1950. The bulk of the holdings highlight the years 1890-1930.
The works include pen and ink, watercolor, wash and gouache, and oil paintings. The most prevalent publishers represented in this collection were Scribner and Sons, Century and Co., Harper Brothers, and P.F. Colliar and Son. Although many of these illustrations appeared in books, most were from periodicals, notably -- Century Magazine, Harper's Magazine, St. Nicholas Magazine, Scribner's Magazine, Colliars, Success, Life, and Puck. The American Illustration Collection is comparable only to the Library of Congress Cabinet of American Illustration, which houses 4,100 works. Other major collections are found at the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Public Library, and the Brandywine Museum. There are also excellent collections which are privately owned.
Seneca's strongest holdings include the works of Hansom Booth, Arthur William Brown, Charles Livingston Bull, Fanny Young Cory, Palmer Cox, Otho Cushing, George Warton Edwards, Malcom Fraser, A.B. Frost, Gordon Grant, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Jay Hambidge, Charlotte Harding, George Harding, William Jacobs, J.F. Kernan, Arthur Kellar, Rose O'Neil Latham, Clara Elsene Peck, F.W. Read, C.M. Relyea, Alice Barber Stephens, Walter King Stone, Wallace Morgan, and George Wright.
There are some surprises in the collection. Arthur Dove, America's first abstract painter, supported himself as an illustrator, yet little of his work as an illustrator survives. There are about ten known Dove illustrations in public and private collections. The collection at Seneca doubles that number. Another illustrator, Charlotte Harding, considered her illustration work so unimportant that she destroyed most of it. Seneca's collection can now add 14 good examples of her work for illustration scholars to study. W.W. Denslow - famed illustrator of the Oz stories - is represented in the collection as both an artist and illustrator. There are examples of his children's illustrations, but there are also pages from his sketch book, revealing him as a talented landscape artist. Another illustrator of children's books is Palmer Cox with his removed Brownies. He was such a prolific artist that his works are quite easy to locate in public collections. The unique feature of Seneca's Cox holdings is that there are drawings from each of his books - The Brownies Through the Union, Brownies: Their First Book, Brownies on Exhibition, Brownies Abroad, and so forth. Many of the female students of Pyle are represented - Alice B. Stephen's, Olive Rush, Charlotte Harding, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and others. Also, there is a good holding of later Pyle students, many of whom are not represented in any public collection. The collection features the earliest work of many artists who later turned to painting. There is also an outstanding collection of humorous drawings used in the periodicals Life and Puck - Bellew, Brill, Burrow, Daltymple, Dirks, Cushing, Pughe, Toastpern, and several others.
There are several individual pieces, outstanding for their quality, uniqueness or rarity. The Frank Schell and the W.L. Sheppard drawings were the earliest examples, dating from the 1850s. There is a beautiful pastel drawing of a Dutch girl by George Warton Edwards; several good A.B. Frosts and E.A. Abbeys; a watercolour and gouache scene of the docks by William Aylward; and a small but lovely watercolor by Robert Blum of Paris nightlife. The Rose O'Neill drawings preserve some of her best studies of black Americans. There is also a fine example of the work of May Wilson Preston.
There are also noticeable gaps in the collection. For example, the well-known artist Howard Pyle is represented only by prints and reproductions. He was a teacher to many of the famous illustrators like N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish who are not in the collection. Winslow Homer is represented only by prints. Gibson and Christy - illustrators of the American beauties - are not in the collection either. Artists from the American Eight who began their careers as illustrators - Sloan, Glackens and Luks are lacking as well. Also, many of the illustrators of the American West are simply not there. Of course, Helen Card was a dealer, and these kinds of materials must have been the most popular, and therefor sold easily. It is of the understanding that Ms. Card specialized in artists of nature and animals. For this reason she encouraged the works of two artists, Langdon and Kihn and Douglas Alan. Kihn illustrated for the National Geographic Magazine, doing studies of ethnic peoples. Alan specialized in realistic renderings of animal subjects. Although both artists are important and interesting in their own right, neither fits into the narrative content of the rest of the collection.
The overall condition of the collection varies from good to poor. Illustrator art was never intended to last. It was done in a rapid manner with inexpensive materials. Artists who chose to work with oil colors, rarely printed their canvas - there was no need. These works only needed to survive until they could be photographed. In fact, much of the damage probably occurred at the time of publication. The illustrator would correct a drawing by taking Chinese white and blocking out the area to be redrawn. Those artists who used charcoal often varnished their works to avoid smudges. These varnishes have, over time, yellowed the paper and crackled the surface.
Most of the drawings are on illustration board - pressed layers of acidic paper. There are numerous rips, chips, cracks and creases. Gouache and wash was a popular media, often applied thickly, which is now flaking.
Exerted from a report by Judy L. Larson, November 30, 1981 Updates by Sean Hayes, November 23, 2017