Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Rose O'Neill: Kewpies and Monsters

Rose O'Neill (1874-1944) was an illustrator, cartoonist, and writer who created hundreds of drawings of cute babies and young animals, and she invented the Kewpies. 

She called them "Kewpies," a term she invented as a variation on "cupids." 

They became immensely popular as illustrations, paper dolls, and then actual dolls


O'Neill became famous and rich, living a rather eccentric life and sponsoring a variety of artists to live in her grand house. 


She read widely from literature and mythology; she imbibed the work of William Blake and Gustave Doré and she studied with the sculptor Rodin, and was acquainted with Elihu Vedder, and Kahil Gibran. All that exposure inspired her to produce a series of charcoal drawings of monsters, which she described as "a different kind of fun."


For the most part, they were not horrific or cruel monsters but rather androgynous, sensuous creatures who lived lives of passion outside of the strictures of religion and civilization. 

Her friends urged her to publish these works, and finally she shared them with the world but didn't want to intellectualize them. According to 41 Masters of American Illustration, "these things were made for the maker's own delight, and are given to the public only under pressure of people who think it should be done, so the maker feels that she should not be put to the trouble of justifying her whimsies."

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Toy collector Mel Birnkrant's Kewpie collection and bio

Rose O'Neill on Wikipedia

The Story of Rose O'Neill: An Autobiography

Kewpies and Beyond

Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked

2 comments:

Newt said...

Thanks for sharing these, James! I was unaware of O'Neill's work outside the Kewpies. Her monster drawings have a unique tone or mood that I find strangely appealing.

doforanimals said...

She sounds really fascinating! Thank you for bringing her to my attention. I'm inspired to learn more about her.