Category Archives: painting and watercolors


The Longest Painting in America

Longer than the Empire State Building is tall. Longer than three Statues of Liberty. Longer than fourteen blue whales. The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World is on view at Kilburn Mill, New Bedford, until October.

All 1,275 feet of the panorama are currently on exhibit for the first time in generations, authentically depicting a whaling voyage originating from the port of New Bedford in the mid-19th century. Two years in the making, the narrative work was completed around 1848 in five rolls by New Bedford artists Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell, who traveled it around the country as a commercial enterprise.

The first four of Purrington and Russell’s rolls have been conserved and installed to the public thanks to the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The location of the fifth and final section is unknown but hopefully the publicity this display receives will lead to the discovered of the last section.


Benjamin Russell lost his money in a banking scandal and signed on to a whaling ship that took him around the world. This is the trip he depicts, with a few historical events added throughout. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life are just a few of the literary sources referenced in the painting.

The four cotton rolls are hanging thanks to hundreds of magnets so that no damage will be done to the actual painting, and so that the entire display can travel if another venue is found somewhere around the country. Until then, the panorama has been digitized and can be viewed here:

See also: Allan Forbes, Whale ships and whaling scenes as portrayed by Benjamin Russell. Presenting reproductions in color of the paintings of the foremost artist in that field edited by Ralph M. Eastman, assisted by K.G. Rogers (Boston: Second Bank-State Street Trust Co., 1955). Forrestal Annex ND237.R86 F7

Shahn’s Jersey Homesteads Mural

Twenty minutes east of Princeton is the Jersey Homesteads (now called Roosevelt) created to resettle Jewish garment workers living in tenements in New York and Philadelphia. Each family accepted into the community was charged $500 and approximately 200 took advantage of the opportunity to live in government designed houses outside the city.

Many artists have been attracted to the area, beginning with Ben Shahn (1898-1969) and his partner (later wife) Bernarda Bryson (1903-2004). Shahn was invited to create a mural for the school and between 1937 and 38, Ben and Bernarda completed a 45-foot fresco depicting the history of the Jersey Homesteads. By 1947, the government begun selling the houses, first to their residents, then to outsiders. Shahn and Bryson rented a home for several years, finding it hard to give up their NYC apartment, but eventually moved to Roosevelt full-time.

The Shahn mural begins at the left with Jewish immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, featuring portraits of Shahn’s mother, Raphael Soyer, Albert Einstein, and Charles Steinmetz. The center section is filled with the crowded sweatshops and tenements where residents used to live, and the far right shows the planning and development of the Roosevelt cooperative factory and farms. Among the recognizable figures are the architect Alfred Kastner, Heywood Broun, Rexford Guy Tugwell, Senator Robert Wagner, Sidney Hillman, and John Brophy.

Bust of Roosevelt by Jonathan Shahn, located a short distance from the school.


Generations of Artists: Roosevelt, NJ from Princeton Community Television on Vimeo.

The Legend of Phra Malai

Guest post by Martin Heijdra, Director, East Asian Library, Princeton University

The following content is largely based upon comparing our images with the list of selected readings at the end of this blog.

The Legend of Phra Malai is one of the core texts of popular Theravada Buddhist teaching in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand. The story relates how Phra Malai, a monk who has accumulated great merit, travels to hell, where people ask him to urge their relatives to make merit on their behalf, which indeed he successfully does after having come back to the human realm. When on earth, Phra Malai receives eight flowers from a poor peasant or woodcutter, offered with the hope to not be reborn as a poor man in his next life. To enable that, Phra Malai goes to the Tāvitiṁsa Heaven, where he meets Indra, the King of Gods, in front of the Cūḷāmaṇi Cetiya, a stupa with the relics of the Buddha’s hair.

This stupa was built by Indra in order to give the Deities an opportunity to continue to gain merit. Indra explains to Phra Malai the circumstances in which twelve of these deva deities had gained their merits. Finally Metteyya, the Buddha of the Future (Maitreya) comes from Tusita Heaven, and converses with Phra Malai. Some detailed ways to gain merit are discussed, including listening in one day and night to the Vessantara Jātaka. A deterioration of the world is predicted, to be followed by the final coming of Metteya, beginning a reign of harmony and happiness. On earth, Phra Malai tells this story to his listeners, explain to them the many ways of gaining merit.



There are several traditions of this legend, from popular to elitist. Ours belongs to the popular Phra Mālai klō̜n sūat พระมาลัยกลอนสวด tradition: illustrated texts written on accordion-folded samut khoi paper manuscripts using Khmer script, but in the Thai language (and incorporating Thai tone marks in the Khmer script). These are recited, sung and dramatized for an unsophisticated audience, with colloquial, sensational, even bawdy texts. The earliest extant version dates to the first half of the 18th century, although earlier versions most likely existed.

Samut khoi books (samut: book, khoi: a kind of tree: Streblus asper, or Trophis aspera) are made of boiled khoi bark: the resulting paste, of a naturally off-white color, is dried on cloth frames, and when ready, inscribed on both sides with black ink (or the paper is blackened with lampblack and inscribed with white or colored chalk/ink.). Recitation sessions (and texts) start after a brief chanting of Pali scripture (usually seven books of the Abhidhamma, i.e. the Basket of Higher Doctrine, the last of the three constituting parts of the Pali Canon which contains a detailed scholastic analysis and summary of the Buddha’s teachings.), before the actual Phra Malai legend begins.


The legend is in rather easy Thai, written in the kap poetry style derived from Cambodian, and emphasizes karmic retribution for sins and good deeds. The popular versions include greatly expanded parts and illustrations about Phra Malai’s visit to Hell. In addition, Phra Malai Klon Suat manuscripts are also commonly combined with at least images (rarely texts) from the Thotsachāt ทศชาติ (The last ten birth tales of the Buddha), as is our version. Indeed, the last tale of the Thotsachāt, the Vessantara Jātaka, is the tale whose recitation in one day and one night is told to Phra Malai to be one of the best merit-increasing endeavors.

The Thai funerary context originally implied entertainment and an atmosphere of fun. Such screens are often depicted in the first illustration of the manuscripts, although not in ours, where the monks are rather serious. Reactions against that began during the times of Rama I, but proved difficult to enforce. Still, reading the Phra Malai in these contexts suffered a slow decline, and is now rarely performed.



Selected sources:
Brereton, Bonnie Pacala, Thai Tellings of Phra Malai: Texts and Rituals Concerning a Popular Buddhist Saint, Tempe: Arizona State University, Program for Southeast Asian Studies, 1995.

Brereton, Bonnie Pacala, “Those strange-looking monks in Phra Malai manuscript paintings: Voices of the text,” paper for the 13th International Conference on Thai studies: Globalized Thailand? Connectivity, conflict and conundrums of Thai Studies, 15-18 July 2017, Chiang Mai, Thailand, pp. 68-75

Ginsburg, Henry, Thai Art and Culture: Historic Manuscripts from Western Collections, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2000

Ginsburg, Henry, Thai Manuscript Painting, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.

Igunma, Jana, “A Buddhist monk’s journey to heaven and hell,” Journal of International Association of Buddhist Universities 3 (2012), pp. 65-62

Peltier, Anatole, “Iconographie de la légende de Braḥ Mālay,“ Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême Orient 76 (1982), pp. 63-76

Explanation of the images
Our version of the Phra Malai Klon Suat contains the following illustrations (the numbers refer to those given to the images given in the digitized version, not to the actual folio):

3. This is the usual opening scene of Phra Malai Klon Suat manuscripts, where monks, carrying their talabat fans preside over the funeral wake of a deceased person. Wakes traditionally were an occasion of entertainment, although the 19th century saw a religious movement and laws against that practice. In fact, both the monks and the attendees are here, in comparison with other manuscripts, rather demure. The Phra Malai manuscript would be read during such funeral wake, making this a self-referential image.

5. This manuscript contains also images from the Thotsachāt (The Ten Birth Tales of the Buddha) and Pali extracts from the Buddhist canon, before the actual Thai Phra Malai Klon Suat starts. These images refer to the third tale. Sama, the future Buddha, looks after his blind parents living as ascetics in the forest. The misguided demon king Piliyakkha shoots Sama when fetching water for his parent, attended by two deer. Thanks to his and his parents’ great merit, Sama comes back to life, and his parents regain their eyesight.

8. In the sixth tale of the Thotsachāt, the future Buddha is a serpent divinity (naga) called Bhuridatta. While coiled around an ant-hill during a fast, he is captured by a vicious hunter who has a spell which can even ensnarl a naga (the spell is hidden in the water he sprinkles on the naga with the branch leaf). The tortured Bhuridatta then is carried to events where has to perform for the hunter, which he does without resentment, ultimately regaining his freedom.

12. These images exemplify the intertwining of the Ten Birth Tales with the Legend of Phra Malai. The left image could come from the fourth birth tale, on King Nimi, who, like Phra Malai, is guided by a divine charioteer through the hells and heavens, as well as the Phra Malai. To the left we see a kapok thorn tree, where adulterers are punished, with the man bitten by a dog and being forced to climb the thorn tree to reach his lover at the top pecked by a vulture. They never meet each other, and the punishment is continuous. To the right we see Phra Malai himself hovering above the denizens of hell. Displayed here are probably those who became intoxicated while on earth, and they have acid or molten copper poured down their throats. Visiting Hell, by his very presence Phra Malai temporarily causes rain to decrease the fire of Hell, allowing the victims to tell their stories. They implore him to make their situation known to their descendants on earth, and create merit on their behalf. The crucifixion shown here and in other similar illustration may be a Western influence of the 19th century—the image above this victim’s head probably derives from a halo, or a crown of thorns; it may also refer to the flying disks which in Hell torture victims’ heads.

24. This is a full-fledged hell scene, the only image without a central text. Those who butcher pigs for a living or cheat others have their body hairs become sharp swords embedded in their skin (upper left); corrupt rulers are have huge, decayed, foul-smelling testicles hanging down the ground “like a yam shoulder bag” (bottom left); those who abuse their parents or corrupt leaders will have disks cutting of their heads drenched with blood (left?); those abusing monks fall into an iron cauldron in the Lohakumbhi Hell (right, below Phra Malai); those who believe in false spirit mediums are reborn as ghosts that are part animal, part human (top.) The crucified image of the Nimi Tale reoccurs at the bottom, with halo/ crown of thorns/flying disk.

32. A very poor man plucks lotuses and presents them to Phra Malai, with the request that he will never be born poor again. His wish is granted, and Phra Malai will later offer the lotuses in heaven at the Culamani Cetiya. This event is the occasion for painting a landscape scene in these manuscripts. Originally a woodcutter who came to bath, in later versions the poor man became to be described as a poor peasant needing to wash of his sweat after a day of work, with whom the listeners to the story could identify themselves.

46. Having received the eight lotuses from the poor peasant, Phra Malai immediately goes to the Tavatimsa heaven to offer them to the eight directions of the Culamani Cetiya, a stupa with the relics of Buddha’s hair. He encounters there many deva Great Beings or Deities, one of whom is displayed at the right side, with red halo and exquisitely dressed. Each of these male devas is accompanied by from hundred to tens and tens of thousands of female angels, the number varying according to their merits. These devas all come to pay homage to the Culamani stupa, which was built by Indra, the King of Gods, in order to give also the Deities an opportunity to continue to gain merit. Indra tells Phra Malai the circumstances of how each of these Great Beings accumulated their number of merits.

69. Finally the Buddha of the Future (Metteyya, in Sanskrit Maitreya) arrives from his Tusita Heaven. After having paid reverence to the cetiya, he explains to Phra Malai what will happen on earth before he will be reincarnated on earth. First the world will see a strong deterioration of the Buddhist dharma, with people’s life spans becoming increasingly short and incestuous promiscuity in every possible combination reigning everywhere. Most people will die. But after seven days, a new harmonious society will appear, and the earth will flourish. The Metteya will then be born in the human realm and attain enlightenment. These two images are of that harmonious society. All humans who have followed the Buddha’s way of life will be reborn. Huge kalpavriksha wish trees will provide those humans who have fed and clothed monks with whatever goods and valuables they wish for. In the left image a family plucks valuables from such a tree with a pole, while at the right people walk in the predicted harmony, free from worries and sickness. Even the level of water will be just right, “so that a crow can drink just by tilting its head… and so clear that you can see the fish.”

85. These last illustrations usually come earlier. At the left Indra (traditionally in green) is seen conversing with Phra Malai, in front of the Culamani cetiya. To the right the Buddha of the Future, Metteyya, arrives, heralded by his retinue.

Here Froggy, Froggy

Detail of A.B. Frost, “He dived in…”, for Here Froggy, Froggy by Hugh Wiley, published Scribner’s 62 (October 1917). Gouache on board. Graphic Arts Collection

The Graphic Arts Collection holds a number of paintings by the color-blind artist A.B. (Arthur Burdett) Frost (1851-1928) who illustrated stories published in Scribner’s, Century, and other American magazines. During the late 19th century, Frost was a full-time member of the staff at Harper & Brothers but as demand for his work grew, Frost was eventually able to pick and choose his projects. This story for Hugh Wiley came near the end of Frost’s career, when the artist was sixty-five years old.

Young Hugh Wiley, on the other hand, was at the beginning of his career and this story was written before he enlisted in the army during the First World War. The plot involves Fat Pat Kelly, a cook on the U.S. Dredge No.8; Captain Dan Porter; Otto, the Proosian pastry chef; and their assignment on the Mississippi River in 1917.

“It was after his return to civilian life in 1918 that Wiley began writing professionally, beginning with an adventure tale entitled “Four Leaved Wildcat”, which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on March 8, 1919. He followed this with a series of stories, “Mister Lady Luck”, “Hop”, “Junk”, and “Solitaire” among them, through the year 1920, and these were followed by his first books, The Wildcat in 1920 and The Prowler in 1921. The Wildcat told the story of a black American drafted and sent overseas during World War I; several of Wiley’s other early books, including The Prowler and Fo’ Meals a Day (1927), were works depicting black life in comic and exaggerated manner, somewhat akin to minstrel show entertainment though perhaps a bit more subtle.”–Bruce Eder.

A.B. Frost, “He dived in…”, for Here Froggy, Froggy by Hugh Wiley, published Scribner’s 62 (October 1917). Gouache on board. Graphic Arts Collection

A series of Wiley stories were translated to early films, starring Boris Karloff:

The Bard of Avon and the Bardavon

Leo Sielke, Jr., Design for the Bardavon Theater interior, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1923. Watercolor and gouache on board. Theater Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections


Charlotte Evans, “Poughkeepsie Saves 1869 Opera House,” New York Times 25 Apr 1981: 25:

“Poughkeepsie has a Cinderella story to tell. Five years ago, its Bardavon Opera House, the oldest opera house in New York State and the seventh oldest in the United States, was scheduled for demolition to make way for a parking lot. But three years ago it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and this year the Bardavon is finally coming back into its own as a community-run, nonprofit theater. It is expected to attract 100,000 people to a full season of opera, music, theater and dance.

“The Bardavon, now known officially as the Bardavon 1869 Opera House, was originally the Collingwood, built in 1869 by James Collingwood on the site of his coal and lumberyard. In 1923, after the touring companies had declined and silent films had arrived, the Bardavon underwent a major renovation to become a movie theater.

On Jan. 3 of that year, The Poughkeepsie Evening Star and Enterprise reported that ‘every refinement in designing and decoration has been employed to make it a worthy setting for the best productions of the stage and the films, and no expense has been spared to assure the comfort and safety of its patrons.’

The theater was renamed the Bardavon after Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, reflecting the “Shakespeare mania” of the day. . . . Over the stage hung a 72-foot mural depicting the Bard sitting on the banks of the Avon River, contemplating a fair, pensive woman on the other side.

But the theater could not stave off the woes of the inner city, and by the 1960’s the Bardavon was seedy. Several movie companies failed to revive it and in 1975, when the city’s master plan called for more downtown parking, eyes turned toward the opera house.”

Unfortunately, the mural has been lost or painted over, leaving this 1923 design by Leo Sielke the only record of the 72-foot painting that once decorated the Bardavon’s proscenium arch. Sielke’s watercolor and gouache sketch was recently conserved and rehoused for Princeton’s theater collection.

See other designs by Leo Sielke & Son:

Leo Sielke & Son

Washington D.C. entrepreneur Fayette Thomas “Tom” Moore (1880-1955) shifted careers from vaudeville performer to Washington D.C. movie theater owner to Hollywood producer-director-writer before committing suicide at the age of 75. His D.C. theaters included the Diamond on H Street, the Plaza on 9th Street, the Garden Theatre, Orpheum and the Rialto, along with 15 others on the “Moore circuit.”

The Garden Theatre was acquired by Moore in 1913, who immediately renamed it Moore’s Garden Theatre. After much success presenting first run motion pictures, he hired the New York firm of Leo Sielke & Son to redesign and renovate the interior with hand-painted murals and elegantly printed wallpaper. In 1922, Moore lost control of the Garden to Henry Crandall, who renamed it the Central Theatre.


There are at least three generations of artists in the Sielke family, who founded an interior design business in the 19th century, handling both commercial and residential projects. In 1903, Leo Sielke Sr. bought out his partners and renamed the firm Leo Sielke & Son, with offices located at 1164 Broadway near Madison Square Garden.

His son Leo Sielke, Jr. (1880-1930) worked with the firm during his early career but eventually moved to California where he specialized in the portraits of silent-film stars. It is unclear which members of the company are responsible for the Garden Theatre redesign.

Princeton University Library’s Theater Collection holds a number of designs by Leo Sielke & Son, including these proposed renovations to Moore’s Garden Theatre in 1918.

See also: Robert K. Headley, Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, D.C. : an Illustrated History of Parlors, Palaces, and Multiplexes in the Metropolitan Area, 1894-1997 (ReCAP PN1993.5.U79 H43 1999).

Broadway Historians — Help

The Princeton University Library Theater Collection holds a number of watercolor and gouache set designs by the Swedish American artist Mark Lawson (ca. 1866-1928).

Thanks to research from the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library, we have the following information about Lawson:

“Set designer Mark Lawson (ca. 1866 -1928) was born in Stockholm, Sweden. He came to Chicago as a baby, later living in Minnesota, studying under scenic artist Paul Clausen. After working at Stetson’s Globe Theatre in Boston, Lawson came to New York where he worked on Broadway from 1915-1922, including productions at the New York Hippodrome, where he was on staff. Lawson was also a member of the Lambs Club. He died in New York City.”

In addition, the online Playbill database lists a number of the New York shows with sets designed by Lawson:

However, we have not been able to match these designs to a particular production in New York or Boston. Can you help? Please reply to




Glenn O. Coleman, Stuart Davis, and Henry Glintenkamp

Glenn O. Coleman (1881-1932), The Mirror, 1931. Lithograph printed by George Miller after Coleman’s 1927 painting. 3/50. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2008.00386.

In the fall of 1913, best friends Stuart Davis (1892-1964) and Henry J. Glintenkamp (1887-1946) left their Hoboken studio, grabbed the third musketeer Glen O. Coleman (1881-1932) and moved into a studio in the Miller Building, which was right across the street from the Lincoln Center Arcade (present day Julliard). The $40 rent was split three ways and the walls hung with their work recently included in the Armory Show. All three had agreed to join the staff at The Masses, where John Sloan was the new art editor and every spare minute was spent drawing. That December Davis turned 21, Glintenkamp was 26, and Coleman was 32 but lied about his age, passing as 26.


[Princeton’s Art Museum is fortunate to have one of Coleman’s lower east side street scenes merging architectural elements, which echoes the view in the mirror above. Instead of paintings, he called them Arrangements.

Glenn O. Coleman, City Street, ca. 1927 Gouache on off-white wove paper. Princeton University Art Museum. Laura P. Hall Memorial Collection x1946-172]


Glintenkamp, Coleman and Davis on their way in 1914. Reproduced in Rebecca Zurier, Art for the Masses, (1911-1917) (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1985). Firestone Library NC108 .Z87 1985.


The Lincoln Arcade, at Broadway and 66th Street, had become the new Bohemia with artists, musicians, and actors filling the halls. George Bellows lived on the top floor, sharing his space with Eugene O’Neill who was writing a play about a young man who wanted to be an artist. Robert Henri rented two rooms across the hall where he opened the Henri School of Art, with Coleman as class monitor (one of three or four jobs he maintained).

Downstairs Marcel Duchamp carried two large panes of glass into the studio he shared with Jean Crotti, and promised the finished work to Walter Arensberg, if he would cover their rent. Other residents at various times included Thomas Hart Benton, Samuel Halpert, Raphael Soyer, actor William Powell, and cartoonist Pat Sullivan (Felix the cat), among many others.

Davis, Coleman, and Glintenkamp worked together and played together, wandering through Chinatown, the Lower East Side, and across the Brooklyn Bridge as Henri instructed, in search of real life scenes for their paintings and prints. Note The Doctor’s saloon, a Park Row dive bar owned by Patrick “Burly” Bohan (1864–1931), drawn by both Coleman and Davis.

[above] Detail from Stuart Davis, Outside “The Doctor’s”, 1910. Watercolor. The Norma and Myron H. Goldberg Art Trust, reproduced in Stuart Davis A Catalogue Raisonne edited by Ani Boyajian and Mark Rutkoski (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2007). Marquand Oversize ND237.D32 B692 2007q

[below] Glenn O. Coleman, Third Avenue from the portfolio Lithographs of New York, 1928. Printed by George Miller. Edition of 50.

Henry J. Glintenkamp (1887-1946), Limehouse Causeway, 1921. Linocut. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2007.01354

When the United States joined World War I in 1917, Davis received a deferment and worked in New York, Coleman was exempt (over the draft age), but Glinkenkamp, registered as a conscientious objector, fled to Mexico. Wherever he traveled he continued to paint and make prints featuring street life. Limehouse Causeway [seen above] is a street in East London that was the home to the original Chinatown of London.

Photograph of Robert Henri’s class in 1909 with Davis and Coleman in the back row with an unidentified woman between them (Glintenkamp was not in the class that year). Reproduced in Karen Wilkin, Stuart Davis (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987). Marquand Library Oversize ND237.D32 W53q

Lincoln Square Arcade on fire and firemen extinguish the fire in New York City. HD Stock Footage CriticalPast Published on Jun 19, 2014


Glenn Odem Coleman was born on July 18, 1881, in Springfield, Ohio, not 1887 as we all previously believed. This is the beginning of a longer piece on Coleman.

Horsfall’s Nassau Hall

During the first weeks of June 1909, an exhibition was held at the Nassau Club in Princeton, N.J., featuring “paintings and sketches of the campus made by the well-known artist, Robert Bruce Horsfall.” A review in the Daily Princetonian mentions, in particular, “The large painting of ‘Old Nassau’ is of a rainy day in late autumn, showing the fine old elms in the foreground, and could have been made only by one thoroughly familiar with the campus.”–Daily Princetonian 34, no. 74 (June 5, 1909). Unfortunately, only members of the Club were invited to see Horsfall’s work.

Today, thanks to the generous donation of Tracy Mennen Shehab in honor of her grandfather, William G. Mennen, Class of ’36, Horsfall’s painting of Old Nassau is now part of the Graphic Arts Collection where it can be seen by one and all.

Born in Clinton, Iowa, one of the few thorough obituaries for Horsfall appeared in the Annals of Iowa, published by the State Historical Society of Iowa (fall 1948), which reads, in part,

“Robert Bruce Horsfall, artist and naturalist, died at Long Branch, New Jersey, at Monmouth Memorial hospital, March 24, 1948 . . . as an illustrator of backgrounds for natural habitats, [Horsfall] first exhibited in Chicago in 1886, also at Chicago World’s fair in 1893, and at mid-winter exposition, San Francisco 1893-94; his work often exhibited in national and private museums; from 1904 to 1914 did scientific illustrations for the Princeton Patagonian Report and lived at Princeton University during most of that time.”


The full Report of the Princeton University Expeditions to Patagonia can be read online at:

Ruth and James McCrea

[Above] Ruth and James McCrea, Cover design for Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970). Oil paint on board. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.


Ruth and James McCrea, Cover design for In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970). Oil paint on board. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.


In 1960, the first 21 titles in the Scribner Library (paperback) series were published, beginning with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  One artist was assigned to each author, so that writer’s books would have a distinct and yet, uniformed appearance.

This plan was interrupted only once, with the cover designs for the novels of Ernest Hemingway, which were painted by the husband and wife team of James C. McCrea (1920-2013) and Ruth McCrea (1921-2016).

Thanks to the gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973, we are fortunate to have all 11 paintings by the McCreas for the covers of Hemingway’s novels, including Across the River and into the Trees; A Farewell To Arms; For Whom The Bell Tolls; In Our Time; Men Without Women; The Green Hills of Africa; The Old Man and the Sea; The Snows of Kilimanjaro; The Sun Also Rises; To Have and Have Not; and Winner Take Nothing. None of the paintings for Scribner’s are signed by either artist.


Ruth and James McCrea, Cover design for For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970). Oil paint on board. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.


James McCrea was born in Peoria, IL; attended the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee; and served in the Merchant Marine in World War II. Ruth McCrea was born in Jersey City, NJ, and attended school first in Brooklyn Heights, then Sarasota, Florida.

It was at the Ringling School of Art that she met James, marrying him on the 4th of July 1943. While he served in the Marines, Ruth sold her watercolor landscapes (beach scenes clearly still in evidence on Hemingway’s covers).

The McCreas both worked as freelance designers and illustrators commuting from Bayport, NY on the south shore of Long Island and much of this information comes from Ruth’s obituary written by Carissa Katz for the East Hampton Star newspaper.

While the two worked closely on many projects, Ruth illustrated a series of cookbooks on her own while James taught typography at The Cooper Union. A search of the two names brings 91 books with designs credited to Ruth McCrea and only 60 for James McCrea.

Here are a few more of their paintings for Hemingway’s books.

Ruth and James McCrea, Cover design for Across the River and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970). Oil paint on board. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.


Ruth and James McCrea, Cover design for A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970). Oil paint on board. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.

[above] Ruth and James McCrea, Cover design for Winner Take Nothing by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970). Oil paint on board. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.

[below] Ruth and James McCrea, Cover design for To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970). Oil paint on board. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.

Ruth and James McCrea, Cover design for The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970). Oil paint on board. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.


Ruth and James McCrea, Cover design for The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970). Oil paint on board. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Charles Scribner III, Class of 1973.