Editor's note: The following texts are from the 32-page exhibition catalogue for Hidden Treasures: Illustrated Books by William E.B. Starkweather held March 28 through July 11, 2013 at the Hickory Museum of Art. They were reprinted in Resource Library on October 23, 2013 with permission of the Hickory Museum of Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the texts, or if you wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue, please contact the Hickory Museum of Art directly at P. O. Box 2572, Hickory, NC 28603, or through either this phone number or web address:
Hidden Treasures of William Starkweather
By Peter Falotico
In America, the period from about 1895 through 1915 was considered by rare book scholars to be the Golden Age of Book Illustration. Book publishers were thriving on the popularity of mass produced books, and publishing houses were opening throughout the United States. Book illustrators found employment and artists moonlighted to make ends meet. One such artist was William Edward Bloomfield Starkweather (1879-1969) who is the focus of this exhibition.
William Starkweather was born in Belfast, Ireland as William Bloomfield. His father, Edward, passed away and William's mother brought him to America and settled into Connecticut. For many years William thought he was born in Scotland, but found paperwork in an old Bible which challenged his belief. Soon after arriving in America his mom passed away, and the young William was fortunate enough to be adopted by the Starkweather family of Winchester, Connecticut. After attending Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Connecticut, William moved to New York City to study painting at the Art Students League. It is unclear if Starkweather met his painting teacher John Henry Twactman in Connecticut before he started at the Art Students League or while at the league.
While he was learning to paint, Starkweather managed to save enough money to go to France to study at the Academie Colorassi. While studying at the academy he attended the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 and was overwhelmed by the Best in Show painting by Joaquin Sorolla, The Sad Inheritance. Sorolla was Spain's most famous Impressionist. The viewing of this painting challenged Starkweather to go back to America and save money to attempt to study with Sorolla in Spain.
It is during this time that Starkweather accepted the role of book illustrator to make enough money to travel to Spain. He worked for four different publishing houses in New York. The majority of his book designs, about seventy, were for R.F. Fenno and Company. He also designed a few books for F.M. Buckles and Company, Grosset and Dunlap, and The MacMillian Company, totaling about fifteen books. It is not known now, and may never be known, the exact number of books he designed or illustrated during this time.
Book cover designers were rarely credited for their work. Today, it is impossible to find records which identify all of the illustrators who worked from 1895 through 1915. The research on Golden Age books by John Espey and Charles Gullans and recently, Richard Minsky have helped redefine American book history.
I started my collection at first by seeing if the correlation between paintings by Starkweather were similar to his book designs. They are not. Starkweather had a long career as a painter and a relatively short career as a book illustrator. He became known as a regional American Impressionist and his paintings are in major museum collections.
The Northport Public Library research librarian, Nancy Morcerf, managed to track down where I could find the four illustrated books attributed to Starkweather. Then, I found many online book dealers who specialized in antiquarian books. My first two Starkweather designed books were a 1902, R.F. Fenno and Company red cover version of The March of the White Guard by Gilbert Parker and a 1904, Grosset and Dunlap published version of Brakespeare, or The Fortunes of a Free Lance by George A. Lawrence.
Once I received the Brakespeare book I found a break-through discovery. By the way, Lisë Swensson, the Executive Director of the Hickory Museum of Art, came up with the title for this exhibition, Hidden Treasures, during a phone conversation I had with her about this discovery. Starkweather placed his monogram, a small WEBS, which looks like the symbol on a map for North, South, East and West, on the cover of the front binding. He also put his trademark pinecone line drawings into the endpapers of books from 1902, another hidden treasure. This was the start of my positive obsession into the world of antiquarian book purchases.
Along the way, I found Richard Minsky on the Internet, an expert in books, illustrations and the Golden Age of Bookbinding. He had two Starkweather books listed on his website. Richard identified Over His Cigar, by Ik Marvel, and had a digital image for me to view. The website led me to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's American Publishers' Trade Bindings site, where I found two books in their online collection, Son of Hagar and Reveries of a Bachelor. The University of Virginia had a 1904, R.F. Fenno version of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, but they did not know that the front binding cover was monogrammed by William E.B. Starkweather and I helped them to identify the cover by the WEBS monogram. They have since added two additional versions of the book to their site from digital images I sent them from my collection.
I have been actively searching and purchasing Starkweather designed or illustrated books since 2007. At first I was able to purchase all the eleven original copies of The Mentor magazine, from 1919 to 1926 for which Starkweather wrote articles. Then I found a rare 1930's copy of the December, Volume 40, number 12, Home and Field magazine from Field Publications, where Starkweather designed the cover of the magazine to look like one of his paintings. Since then, I have found 80 hardcover books and own 78, dating from the late 1800's through 1910. There may be more and only time will tell. I keep searching daily.
This exhibition, Hidden Treasures, is a first for the Hickory Museum of Art and a first in history. Although, since 1909, Starkweather has had many solo and group exhibitions of his paintings, never before has this group of Starkweather books been exhibited. There are some very rare, very unusual and very different books. Some of the authors are America's favorites, like Stowe, Emerson, Kipling and Doyle. Some of the books have been studied by scholars since they were first published, like Friendship, Self-Reliance and As A Man Thinketh. Some of the books are obscure and have long been forgotten, like Charles Kingsley's Hypatia, the first woman mathematician; The Little Minister, the book written by J.M. Barrie before his famous play Peter Pan; and Ishmael, whose author, E.D.E.N. Southworth, was one of the best paid female writers of the time.
Most of the books from 1902 have pine cone line drawings on the endpapers and are signed W.E.B. Starkweather, 1902. Ten books have line drawings in the margins on every page. One book, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald, has WEBS embedded in the gold inlay, abstract organic images on the cover, and WEBS embedded in the marginal line drawings as well. Starkweather was chosen to design and illustrate 7 different versions of the bestselling book, Thelma by Marie Corelli which was published from 1902 through 1907 by two different publishing houses.
The exhibition focuses on the designs and illustrations of one artist and not on the more than forty-five authors or their themes, genres and what they wrote in each book.
I hope you enjoy this exhibition of William Starkweather designed or illustrated books and I hope this exhibition encourages other book exhibitions which focus on the artist throughout the U.S.
This exhibition is dedicated to two men, my father Peter Frank Falotico, whose untimely death from cancer provided me with a collection of art, and William Edward Bloomfield Starkweather, who dedicated his life to making art. My father purchased a group of Starkweather paintings in 1962 at the Showcase Art Gallery, and these paintings became the foundation for my collection as well as my positive obsession about the artist and his work.
I have the greatest wife, Barbara, who every day is a model of how much good there is in the world and how love can conquer all. She is a beacon of light and provided me with never ending strength and hope through my stage 4 lymphoma.
There are several other people who also deserve to be acknowledged.
Anthony Panzera, artist, author and one of my professors from Hunter College, who since 1968 has become a friend, guide and curator of three Starkweather catalogs and exhibitions. He always finds time to help me and I greatly admire his paintings.
Nancy Morcerf, head research librarian at the Northport Public Library, who helped me find articles, books and ways to research what was available about the artist, author and illustrator William Starkweather. Nancy always accepted every challenge and never tired of my endless inquiries.
Richard Minsky, artist, author and a person who was willing to share all his knowledge about rare books, finding specific antiquarian books and books created or illustrated by William Starkweather.
The Executive Director of the Hickory Museum of Art (HMA), Lisë C. Swensson for making this exhibition possible. Our initial e-mails and phone conversations were positive, encouraging and most helpful, and have led to what I think will be a unique experience for the museum attendees.
HMA Exhibitions & Communications Manager, Kristina Anthony, for setting up the books in the Objects Gallery and making the exhibit a happy place to visit. Kristina took my research notes and transformed them into this beautiful catalog, creating a valuable resource for scholars.
Paul Belard, bookbinder and restorer, who brought many tired books back to life.
Lastly, for all the book dealers around the U.S. and Canada who responded to my inquiries, found books for me and gave me this rare and very fine collection.
About the author
Peter Falotico, Starkweather collector and authority, wrote the above essay in conjunction with the exhibition Hidden Treasures: Illustrated Books by William E.B. Starkweather held March 28 through July 11, 2013 at the Hickory Museum of Art. Mr. Falotico has been an artist, educator and art collector for over 40 years. He was the Director of Art in the Northport School District for 27 years and taught in both public and private schools and colleges. In addition, he worked for the New York State Education Department and both the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Mr. Falotico has a Professional Diploma from St. John's University; a Masters in Media Studies from the New School for Social Research and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Hunter College of C.U.N.Y. He is certified in New York State as SDA, SAS, Art and Educational Communications Specialist.
Preface from the catalogue
The art of William Edward Bloomfield Starkweather (1879-1969) has been important to the Hickory Museum of Art (HMA) since the Museum's early years. The artist Wilford Seymour Conrow (1880-1957), mentor to HMA's founder and first director Paul Whitener (1911-1959) and Starkweather's friend, served as liaison between these two. Conrow encouraged Whitener to collect art created by American artists because at the time, it was less popular and more affordable than European art.
In 1954, nearing the Museum's first decade, Whitener received eight Starkweather paintings for consideration, along with a letter in which Starkweather wrote of his interest in having this artwork placed where it would "be seen, be useful, and be preserved". Whitener was happy to accept this generous gift, and the paintings became an important part of HMA's core collection.
One of Starkweather's donated paintings, Late Afternoon Light, a 1915 oil on canvas, was featured in HMA's 1994 American Collection · Fiftieth Anniversary book, a sign of Starkweather's continued significance to the Museum. This Hidden Treasures catalog and the exhibition it describes are further demonstrations of the importance HMA has placed in Starkweather and his art.
Because of Peter Falotico's tenacious curiosity, another important chapter in William Starkweather's art-making story has been discovered and told for future generations. Inspired by his father's interest in and collection of Starkweather's art, this multi-talented artist and educator has dedicated years of research uncovering Starkweather's place in the Golden Age of American Book Illustration.
Thank you Peter for sharing your enthusiasm for this important artist and your on-going search which has created such a stunning collection of William Starkweather cover designs and book illustrations.
Images from the exhibition
(All images were photographed by the Hickory Museum of Art from books that are in the public domain.)
Resource Library editor's note
The above texts were reprinted in Resource Library on October 23, 2013, with permission of the Hickory Museum of Art, which was granted to TFAO on October 23, 2013.
Resource Library wishes to
extend appreciation to Kristina Anthony of the Hickory Museum of Art for
her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above texts.
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