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Willa Cather Foundation - Red Cloud Nebraska (NE)

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Willa Cather and Her Illustrators

Willa Cather and Her Illustrators

Wednesday, June 2, 2021 to Saturday, July 31, 2021

“The illustration of books, and even more of magazines,
may be said to have been born in our time, so far as
variety and abundance are the signs of it . . . .”
Henry James, Picture and Text (1893)

Willa Cather grew up reading and then publishing during the period considered to be the Golden Age of Illustration in the United States. Spanning roughly 1880–1920, these years are marked by explosive growth in the popularity of illustrated periodicals, made possible by advancements in printing processes in the mid-nineteenth century and inexpensive pulp-based printing stock. Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry alike were embellished, and these illustrated magazines created a path for artists to achieve nationwide recognition, in a way that gallery exhibition and private collection could not.

Cather and the artists who went on to illustrate her serialized novels and short fiction shared a space within that publishing world that was, perhaps, less delineated than today’s. Popular periodicals routinely engaged genuine fine artists as illustrators, just as they published fiction from literary writers like Cather and Wharton and Ferber. Like Cather, some artists grappled with the need to create commercial art to support their other, less profitable, artistic endeavors. But for many readers, there was no difference. 

Writing in Scribner’s in 1892, critic William Coffin writes: “In our own country, at least, it is indisputable that more has been done through the medium of illustrated literature to make the masses of people realize that there is such a thing as art, and that it is worth caring about, than in any other way.” This exhibit explores eight of Cather’s illustrators, all of whom achieved both popular and critical successes during this Golden Age. 

You can explore this digital exhibit by clicking here.

This digital exhibit is free and open to the public, thanks to the generous support of
Humanities Nebraska, as a part of our Spring Conference.