Sunday, November 11, 2007
  Franklin Booth
I previously posted in August a rare Franklin Booth (1874-1948) drawing which I scanned from the book Mimeograph Illustration Inset Portfolio: Drawings by Foremost Artists on Stencils Ready For Printing, published by the A.B. Dick Company (Chicago) in 1940. I say "rare" because how many copies of that catalog were ever saved by the schools and churches that used it? The newsprint paper quality prevented a full appreciation of Booth's line work, so here's another by Booth, a magnificent fantasy scene. When you enlarge, notice how the tiny figures in the distance provide a sense of scale amid the towering trees.

Growing up on a remote farm in Carmel, Indiana, Booth developed his unique pen-and-ink style as the result of a misunderstanding. Living in a rural area and having no knowledge of printing technology, Booth used pen and ink to copy the images he saw in 19th-century magazines, yet he was unaware that he was looking at wood engravings. He thought he was duplicating the look of the originals, as noted by Jim Vadeboncoeur:

Isolated on an Indiana farm and determined to be an artist, he studied what he saw on the pages of Scribner's, Harpers and the other illustrated magazines of the day. What he saw, and what there was to see, were wood-engraved images. Photographic reproduction was in its infancy and was used primarily for halftones of paintings. After all, everyone knew how to reproduce pen & ink work: you engraved it on wood. Booth, not knowing that the line and even the "feel" of the image was a product of the engraver, copied what he saw using pen on paper. By the turn of the century, when Booth was embarking on his incredible career, the technology had advanced enough so that his pen work could be reproduced as he crafted it. His style was an amazing amalgam of antique appeal and awesome artistry. Soaring, majestic scenes were crafted with thousands of lines, each placed in the precise position with respect to its neighbor to provide just the right density and shade...

The "old-time" feeling that hearkens back to the wood-engraved images of the 19th century really doesn't explain why modern art students are so taken with the approach. I think that what attracted interest then and now is the talent and compositional skills that were conspicuously absent in his contemporary mimics. These compositional abilities are even more amazing when one learns that Booth crafted his images a section at a time, painstakingly detailing a portion in ink that he had carefully penciled. He would complete a section in ink before applying the pencil to another part of the drawing. The innumerable strokes of the pen were prone to cause smudging if he were to have fully penciled the entire piece, so this piecemeal approach was his norm. To create and maintain a consistent and regular pattern and density of lines using this method must have been exceedingly difficult, yet he seems to have carried it off with aplomb.

Booth's New York studio was on 57th Street from 1910 until his death in 1948, but for many years he returned to his hometown each summer. In 1914, Theodore Dreiser and Booth made an automotive road trip from New York to Indiana, which they documented in A Hoosier Holiday (1916), written by Dreiser with illustrations by Booth. When Booth proposed the trip, Dreiser said, "All my life I've been thinking of making a return trip to Indiana and writing a book about it". With full chapters on the idyllic way of life in Carmel, this book is regarded today as a forerunner to the American road novel and a possible influence on Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

The Carmel paean by Dreiser and Booth put the town on the map, so to speak, and their book has been reprinted several times, most recently in 1997 by the Indiana University Press and last July by Kessinger Publishing. Yet curiously, not even a single sentence about Carmel's famous native can be found in the town's official online histories. Although Carmel has invested more than $10 million in the development of the Carmel Arts & Design District and the recreation of "historic" Old Town Carmel where "fresh new facades... create a Main Street of old," one can search in vain for any online mention there of Booth. Instead, the favorite son is Leslie Haines, an electrical engineer who designed and installed an early traffic light in 1923 when the population of Carmel was still only a few hundred people.

In addition to Scribner's and Harper's, Booth's art was published in Century, Cosmopolitan, Everybody's, Good Housekeeping, House & Garden, Ladies Home Journal, McClure's, Redbook and more. His work was collected in Franklin Booth: 60 Drawings (1925), reprinted in 1978 by Woody Gelman's Nostalgia Press as The Art of Franklin Booth. The illustration at top was used on the cover of John Fleskes' Franklin Booth: Painter with a Pen (2002), the first title from Fleskes' Flesk Publications five years ago. The book features an introduction by Roy Krenkel (1918-1983), who was greatly influenced by Booth and Norman Lindsay (1879-1969). The paperback edition was issued by Flesk this past summer. Manuel Auad included a 16-page color section in his Franklin Booth: American Illustrator (Auad Publishing, 2006).

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probably my favorite illustrator - his work fascinates me - the mood, the space, the light
The only book I have left from the days of Qua Brot is at book on Booth. I have a Krenkel sketch on my desk but don't even have a drawing or book from Frazetta or Al Williamson or Wood. Just a book on Booth.
wonderful to see your information about Franklin Booth. I am researching him for a plaque which will go on the family home here in Carmel. He was inducted in the Carmel the High School hall of and is having an exhibition about his life at the historical Society. I agree that his recognition is long overdue,
I see Carmel Arts and Design now has a photo of Booth's house.
Stephanie, when is the exhibition?
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