A charming and vanguard view of the generation gap which incited “The Jazz Age.” Boomerang, which in the 1910s was synonymous with backfire, was a key flashpoint term of the era, since the older generation found all their efforts to instill their Victorian values on their children failed drastically. This lovely watercolor work is by Rose O’Neill, the most famous and prolific female illustrator of the early 1900s. She is best remembered for her creation the Kewpie doll, which is perhaps as collected and popular today as when initially created.
Rose Cecil O’Neill, the second child of William Patrick and Asenath Cecelia, was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, June 24, 1874. The family moved to Battle Creek, Nebraska, in 1876.
At age 14, Rose won an art contest for a drawing by a Nebraska school child sponsored by the Omaha World Herald. This started her in a career of illustrating stories in pen and ink. By age 17, she was illustrating “Arabian Nights” for a Denver Magazine, The Great Divide. By age 19, Rose had written a novel, Callista, with 63 illustrations. She took it and other drawings and headed for New York stopping in Chicago to see the 1893 World’s Fair. There she saw her first modern paintings and sculptures.
Advised by a publisher to wait until she was grown to write, he encouraged her to continue drawing. Rose enrolled at the Convent of the Sisters of St. Regis in New York City where she studied three years . . . making illustrations for Truth, Collier’s Weekly, Harper’s Monthly, Weekly and Bazaar.
In 1909, Rose created the Kewpie doll, a roly-poly elf with a fat child’s body, small wings and a turnip top head. These cupids had appeared in head and tail pieces when Rose illustrated love stories in books and magazines. Edward Bok of the Ladies Home Journal cut out a number of these and sent them to Rose asking if she could make a series of illustrations of the little creatures. He said he would find someone to make accompanying verses. Rose wasn’t about to allow anyone else to supply the dialogue for the series. Thus the Kewpie, a benevolent elf who did good deeds in a funny way, was created.
Using the Kewpies, she illustrated her children’s poems in Woman’s Home Companion and Good Housekeeping magazines, books, Sunday cartoons, and cutouts (paper dolls). These stories were composed in two-page formats of illustrations and rhymes. In 1910, Kewpies became a series in the Woman’s Home Companion and The Kewpies and Dottie Darling, a children’s book written and illustrated by Rose, was published.
1911 saw The Kewpies, Their Book, a children’s book by Rose, published. 1913, Rose obtained the first patent in the United States for the three dimensional Kewpie Doll. 1914, Kewpie Kutouts book by Rose was published. 1916, The Kewpie Primer, a reading book for children illustrated by Rose, was published. During the 1920s, Kewpies appeared in Good Housekeeping, The Delineator, and Ladies Home Journal.
Her advertising campaigns included Edison Phonographs, Pratt & Lambert Paints and Varnishes, Kelloggs’ Corn Flakes, Rock Island Railroad and Oxydol Detergent. Rose’s series of 98 Jell-O gelatin ads spanned from 1909 to 1922 and included a series of Jell-O premium cookbooks. These are displayed at the Jell-O museum in Leroy, New York.
In 1921, Rose held a one-woman Paris exhibit of her serious artwork she called “Sweet Monsters” at the Galerie Devambez in Paris. These drawings were at the same time mysterious and revealing, exalted and terrifying. These drawings showed another facet of this amazing artist’s depth of creativity. In 1922, the Sweet Monsters were exhibited at the Widenstein and Company exhibition showrooms in New York City.
During the period from 1904 to 1930, Rose published the following books while illustrating scores of other author’s works. In 1904 her first novel was published, The Loves of Edwy. The Lady in the White Vail with five illustrations followed in 1909. Rose’s poetry book, Master Mistress, was published in 1922. In 1928 Rose’s story book, The Kewpies and the Runaway Baby, was published. Rose’s novel, Garda, was published in 1929 and it was followed a year later by another novel, The Goblin Woman.
Rose passed away April 6, 1944, in Springfield, Missouri, after suffering a series of mild strokes. She is buried in her family cemetery at her beloved Bonniebrook.
In April,1967, a group of Rose O’Neill admirers, met in Branson, Missouri. They formed what was later to be called the International Rose O’Neill Club (IROC). Three to five hundred loyal Rose O’Neill memorabilia collectors from all over the world meet in Branson each year to enjoy fellowship, swap treasures, and learn more about the life and artistic feats of this remarkable woman.
Rose has twice been recognized by the United Postal Service with stamps commemorating her work. In 1997, Scootles appeared in the collection of Classic American Dolls and in 2000, Kewpie and Kewpidoodle were featured with 19 other outstanding American Illustrators.