“What is all the racket about? Did you put red pepper on the lollypops?'”
— Johnny Gruelle
John Barton Gruelle was born on this day in Arcola, Illinois, USA in 1880. Today is the 132nd anniversary of his birth.
Gruelle followed his father, Richard Gruelle, into Art. But, while Richard Gruelle was a member of the acclaimed Hoosier Group and produced beautiful American Impressionist landscapes and portraits, Johnny’s art took on a more commercial side. He was a prolific political cartoonist, illustrator and children’s book author in the early 20th Century. But he is best known for creating Raggedy Ann and Andy.
His career started in newspapers.
In 1901 the 20-year-old Gruelle landed his first newspaper job, at the gossipy Indianapolis tabloid, the People. There he worked for several months creating rough-hewn “chalk-plate” portraits. [Johnny Gruelle, Inspired Illustrator by Patricia Hall]
He worked for several paper, both in black and white and color, and
would turn out as many as ten cartoons each week, his style steadily growing more expert and refined. [Ibid]
Before Raggedy Ann came out he produced a popular cartoon for the New York Herald, Mr. Twee Deedle. It ran from 1911 to 1914. That brought commissions for children’s books. He wrote and Illustrated All about Cinderella, and illustrated Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Nobody’s Boy, All About Hansel and Grethel, All About the Little Small Red Hen and Sunny Bunny.
His daughter Marcella found an old rag doll in the attic of their family home and, after cleaning it up, Gurell painted a face on it and gave it to the girl. He created stories and adventures about the doll and incorporated other toys in Marcella’s nursery. Marcella loved the doll, Raggedy Ann, and the folk-lore her father built around it. And Gruelle thought other children might like the stories too.
He patented the doll in 1915 and worked with the PF Volland publishing company in Chicago to put out Raggedy Ann Stories in 1918.
The Raggedy Ann and Andy stories are similar in structure to the more modern Toy Story movies. The dolls and toys have full, adventurous lives when the humans aren’t looking. But, the second the humans enter the room all the dolls are back in place, just where they were left.
Gruelle’s beloved Marcella, his daughter and muse, died in his arms from diphtheria when she was 13. He was heartbroken and could only find comfort from her old rag doll. He continued to write Raggedy Ann stories in tribute to Marcella for the rest of his life, capturing with each joy-filled illustration the little girl he lost.
His writing and illustrating career flourished. He went on to draw and create stories for books, magazines and newspapers, until his death in 1938.