Here it is the second of February – winter’s almost over! I wish! Unfortunately, when the groundhog made his appearance in Punxsutawney this morning, he was frightened by his shadow, thereby decreeing that we’ll suffer this season for another six weeks.
Note that the fellow in the picture is looking askance down to his left at the darkened area on the snow where his corpulent form has blocked the sunlight. Living here in Pennsylvania, we have come to accept the ubiquitous grondhog as a part of life; scarcely a summer’s day goes by that we don’t see one along the roadside, or skittering off under the bushes as we approach the garden. The picture above, therefore, is also something of a favorite.
For a number of years I’ve accumulated/collected books illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull. His subject was nature, and he illlustrated more than 135 books from the turn of the century until his death in 1932. I especially like the simplicity of his style, influenced by the Japanese print. At the same time his representations of animals are lifelike and capture moments of motion that typify the actions of those animals. Among the most famous of the books he illustrated were Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang. His leaping tigers poster was one of the most famous used by the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus.
In addition, Bull illustrated magazine stories, articles and covers, far too many to count. About 1980 there was a small traveling exhibit of his works that I attended when it was at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd’s Ford, PA – home of the late Andrew Wyeth. The Brandywine has a penchant for the art of illustrators, since it’s the home of a considerable amount of Wyeth art, and Andrew’s father N.C. Wyeth was famous for his illustrations of many an adventurous tale. The exhibit was sponsored by a museum in Alberta, the Glenbow Museum, which itself has a considerable holding of the paintings and drawings of illustrators.
Back to the picture above – it’s an original mixed media on illustration board which I bought at a local auction years ago. It was published as the cover of Country Gentleman Magazine, January 29, 1916, just a couple of days before Groundhog Day – which has been celebrated in PA since at least 1887. Today, posters of this Country Gentleman cover are available online, given the title “Beaver in Winter”!! Though I suppose he could be construed as a beaver, I doubt that his appearance would have been so close to Groundhog day – and since Bull lived nearby in New Jersey, it is hard to imagine that he was unaware of the custom. Additionally, Bull was a stickler for accuracy, and the erect posture is characteristic of the groundhog, while a standing beaver would usually be more forward-leaning. Compare to this picture of a groundhog from Wikipedia:
Little doubt in my mind, even down to the coloration, Bull has drawn a groundhog here. Too bad he drew a shadow, too! Aren’t you tired of winter?