artist for the ages, Franklin Booth, born 1874, was a product of his time.
Isolated on an Indiana farm and determined to be an artist, he studied what
he saw on the pages of Scribner's, Harpers and the other illustrated
magazines of the day. What he saw, and what there was to see, were
wood-engraved images. Photographic reproduction was in its infancy and was
used primarily for halftones of paintings. After all, everyone knew how to
reproduce pen & ink work: you engraved it on wood.
Booth, not knowing that the line and even the "feel" of the image was a product of the engraver, copied what he saw using pen on paper. By the turn of the century, when Booth was embarking on his incredible career, the technology had advanced enough so that his pen work could be reproduced as he crafted it. His style was an amazing amalgam of antique appeal and awesome artistry. Soaring, majestic scenes were crafted with thousands of lines, each placed in the precise position with respect to its neighbor to provide just the right density and shade.
His drawings were literally awash in ink lines, yet they maintain an openness that seems impossibly contradictory. Witness The New House at left, originally an illustration for a poem in Good Housekeeping and reproduced in both The Indiana Home and Franklin Booth: 60 Drawings. In the original, the newly framed house sits clearly upon the knoll seen between the trees, yet the fine lines that delineate the clouds can be seen though the open rafters. The control Booth was able to wield and the clarity he generated with his unique approach was, hell, it still is, unmistakably the work of a genius.
(We've often seen Booth's work likened to old steel engravings, but being familiar with both wood and steel engraved images, I think it is extremely unlikely that his style is descendant from the latter.)
Ernest Elmo Calkins (from the Appreciation to Franklin Booth: 60 Drawings)
The image of worshipers in the church above could just as easily have been an illustration for a devotional poem or an Estey Organ advertisement. To Booth's sensibilities, both were of equal merit and deserved the same effort.
Booth's artistry and appeal influenced artists throughout the century. His style was slavishly imitated and copied during his career. Roy Krenkel unashamedly dedicated drawings to Booth and drew upon his work for inspiration. Berni Wrightson's Frankenstein is an unabashed paean to the man and the style. Artists and art fans alike are still enthralled with his art today. We used some Booth images on the cover of our Catalog #15 and sold three or four copies of Franklin Booth: 60 Drawings, in the $350-$450 range. The universal appeal of the style is interesting. The "old-time" feeling that hearkens back to the wood-engraved images of the 19th century really doesn't explain why modern art students are so taken with the approach. I think that what attracted interest then and now is the talent and compositional skills that were conspicuously absent in his contemporary mimics. These compositional abilities are even more amazing when one learns that Booth crafted his images a section at a time, painstakingly detailing a portion in ink that he had carefully penciled. He would complete a section in ink before applying the pencil to another part of the drawing. The innumerable strokes of the pen were prone to cause smudging if he were to have fully penciled the entire piece, so this piecemeal approach was his norm. To create and maintain a consistent and regular pattern and density of lines using this method must have been exceedingly difficult, yet he seems to have carried it off with aplomb..
Even his occasional color work carried the lofty, soaring feel of immense vertical space. The perfect vehicle was The Flying Islands of the Night, a fantasy play in verse by James Whitcomb Riley. 16 tipped-in color plates all feature spacious vistas extending in strong vertical compositions: whether the subject matter was high-flying fantasy (at right) or a more earth-bound figure (at left), the canvas extended upward following the natural shape of the book, creating a sense of majesty and power and awe. It was the perfect approach for an assignment that could have easily degenerated into maudlin sentimentality and perfunctory, standard "fantastic" images. Booth's work literally makes the book. It's unlikely that this minor romance by Riley would be known today if not for Booth's dynamic and appealing artwork.
In a career spanning the first third of the century, we find his work as early as 1907 in Scribners illustrating the poem, A Deserted Village (at left). All the hallmarks that were to define his art are already present: the decorative border, the majestic gnarled trees, the classic hand lettering and the scroll that was to eventually frame his distinctive signature. Commissions, both editorial and commercial followed from all of the prominent magazines. His work can be found in Harpers, Century, Everybody's, McClure's, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, House & Garden, Ladies Home Journal and more. By the early 1930's, the changing fashion of publishing and advertising seems to have gone elsewhere for their images.
Fortunately there are those of us who keep his memory alive and an ever-renewing legion of new fans to discover and marvel at his talent.
In a puzzling aside, we must mention that the 60 Drawings book was reprinted in 1978 by Nostalgia Press as The Art of Franklin Booth. For some unfathomable reason that defies all book selling logic, this modern reprint is harder to find than the 1925 original. Since 1990, when we started keeping computer records of books sold, we've had 23 copies of 60 Drawings and 13 of The Art of... If anyone can explain the logic in this, we'd love to hear it.
Information supplied by: http://www.bpib.com/booth.htm