Thursday, January 31, 2008

Berryman exhibit at National Archives preview UPDATED

Thanks to my colleague Miriam (we bonded over stories of St. Elizabeth Hospital records), I got to see the new National Archives exhibit on Clifford Berryman today. Running for Office: Candidates, Campaigns, and the Cartoons of Clifford Berryman is open at the downtown branch from February 8 - August 17th. A formal review will appear in the fall issue of the International Journal of Comic Art, but here's some notes.
Running for office button
The exhibit was curated by Jessie Kratz and Martha Grove. They looked through the 2,400 pieces of artwork that the Senate was given after the cartoons were found in garbage bags in Berryman's daughter's house in the early 1990s. The curators looked through all of the drawings for cartoons that related to the campaign process. They divided the exhibit into sections: Throwing Your Hat in the Ring!, Narrowing the Field, Running for Congress, The Campaign, The Voter, Candidate William Jennings Bryan, The Homestretch and The Results Are In! I'd guesstimate that about 50 cartoon are displayed including a self-portrait with teddy bear. Berryman's lasting claim to fame, beyond being a professional cartoonist for 53 years, is drawing a bear cub that Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot. The teddy bear became an icon of his drawings.

Berryman was a consummate professional. There's barely any visible underlying pencil or scraping out of unwanted lines. His characters are clearly recognizable, although more as portraits than caricatures as Warren Bernard pointed out. However, as Richard Baker, a Senate Historian noted in his introduction, Berryman "...combined a fine skill in caricaturing Senators with a gentle humor..." The gentle humor means that these cartoons are very gentle indeed, especially when compared to Nast and Oliphant at the opposing ends of Berryman's career.
100_4687Ahh, the lame duck!

Still, I like his work. His drawing of Roosevelt as Shakespeare's Hamlet is fantastic. Henry Ford was satirized as wearing a bathing suit, but refusing to dive into the 'presidential pool'. His elephant and donkeys symbols are excellent pen and ink works. His line is clear and easy to understand, even with his use of a massive amount of crosshatching.

The curators made a good selection of cartoons - most are still easily understandable. A reproduction of a front page of Washington's Evening Star shows how these cartoons would have appeared originally - far smaller, but on the front page of the paper. Berryman was considered the dean of Washington cartoonists, and a visit to this exhibit can show you why.

The exhibit has a small brochure, and a catalogue which appears very well done. Full of color reproductions, it's for sale at the Archives; gift shop. Remember that there's a program with Oliphant, Stephen Hess, Telnaes, Matt Davies and Clay Bennet on the evening of February 7th.

For a week from February 1, you can download the prefatory comments by the Archivist of the US, a historian of the Senate, the curator and Miriam here. I made the recording to help writing a review.

No comments: