Celebrating September!
September brings the promise of cooler days with the autumnal equinox, and St. Louisans certainly look forward to that. Although typical September activities like back-to-school and apple picking are decidedly atypical this year, the beauty of a Midwestern September is still worth celebrating. We’re doing that with a selection from one of the Library’s many Arts & Crafts-inspired treasures.
In 1912, the Indianapolis publisher Bobbs-Merrill produced an illustrated edition of All the Year Round, a poem by James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) that celebrates all the months. Although Riley’s poem was already well-known, this unique edition featured woodcuts by American artist Gustave Baumann (1881 - 1971). The book paired a brief poem about each month with an illustration by Baumann of typical activities of that time of year. Baumann incorporated symbols for the signs of the Zodiac into the elaborate title page design and repeated these on the poetry pages for each month.
Riley had achieved national recognition by the 1880s and 1890s as a best-selling author of poetry and children’s books, several of which were illustrated by leading artists of the day. In 1888 he was invited to the White House to discuss cultural matters with President Grover Cleveland as a member of the International Copyright League. Riley was nicknamed the “Hoosier Poet” for his ties to Indiana and often wrote in a central Indiana dialect, as seen in this edition. The book also reflects his other title, “The Children’s Poet” in its charmingly silly poems and the rustic, family-oriented subjects of the illustrations.
Gustave Baumann’s illustrations reflect his leading role in the American color woodcut revival in the early 1900s that was part of the American Arts & Crafts period. German born, Baumann came to the United States with his family as a child. His artistic training included the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Königliche Kunstgewerbeschule München (Royal School of Arts and Crafts, Munich). Baumann returned to the States in 1904 and soon built a reputation with his woodcuts. The illustrations he produced for Riley’s book reflect the Arts & Crafts ideals of an integrated design for the entire book including page layout, illustrations, and font, as well as the craftsmanship of hand carving the wood blocks.  The Arts & Crafts influence can be seen in the decorative border repeated at the upper corners and in an abbreviated form at the lower corners. This design is found on each month’s illustration, and each has the same distinctive curved lower edge.
“September”, color woodcut by Gustave Baumann, in All the Year Round by
Charles Whitcomb Riley, 1912. Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum
Baumann is best known today for the works he produced on southwest themes. In 1918, a few years after this book was published, Baumann went to Santa Fe at the urging of his fellow artists who were captivated by the scenery – as was Baumann when he arrived. He continued producing woodcuts and paintings, as well as sculpture and furniture, reflecting the strength of his commitment to the Arts & Crafts ideals. The Mercantile Library Art Museum is fortunate to have two examples of Baumann’s Southwest woodcuts in our collection and look forward to having at least one of them featured in the upcoming Americana exhibition.
Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) Church, Rancho de Taos, c. 1918, color woodcut 47/100. Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum
Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) The Loma,  Taos, c. 1919, color woodcut 10/100.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Art Museum
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