Fairies, Brownies and Trolls:
Images of Fantasy and Magic
(November 2002, #086)
Before television, radio and the Internet, storytellers conjured magical creatures such as fairies, ogres, giants and elves to entertain, enrapture and excite young minds. Today, fairy tales and folklore are prized as educational and cultural treasures.
Beginning November 29 and continuing through January 5, the Brandywine River Museum presents an enchanting exhibition that captures the wonder of American fairy tales and folklore. Fairies, Brownies, and Trolls: Images of Fantasy and Magic features original works, photographs, and books showing a broad range of imagery and styles from artists such as George Cruikshank, Howard Pyle, Palmer Cox, Louis Rhead, Arthur Rackham, Franklin Booth, John Rae, Edmund Dulac, Michael Hague, Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish.
During the 19th century, preservation of fairy tales and folkloreócoupled with the Romantic Movement in English literatureógave rise to mythic themes in literature, theater, architecture and art. Some of the most celebrated Victorian writers, poets and painters created sophisticated works from folklore. By the end of the 20th century, children's books and magazines teemed with fairy stories illustrated by many famed British artists who inspired the development of children's book illustration and fairy tales in America.
American illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911), famous for his images of colonial history and pirate adventures, was a leading spirit in the publication of children's stories and illustrations featuring magical figures. In his landmark publications Pepper and Salt (1886) and The Wonder Clock (1888), Pyle re-wrote classic folk and fairy tales in quaint, readable style. Inspiration for his decorative illustrations was drawn from medieval English and German art and from contemporary British illustrators Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway. Pyle's sophisticated style and amusing tone established his works as classics in both America and England. The exhibition contains many of Pyle's original ink illustrations for Pepper and Salt, featuring fairies, trolls and boggarts (mischievous elves).
Palmer Cox (1840-1924) devised comic characters known as "Brownies" based on characters from Scottish folklore called "the wee folk." Like their Celtic cousins, Cox's Brownies did good deeds and helpful work. The good intentions and bumbling antics that frequently got them into trouble provided the basis for their world-traveling adventures. The popularity of Brownies began with their first appearance in St. Nicholas magazine in 1883, and was bolstered by the sale of Brownie dolls, tea sets, chocolate, jewelry and costumes. Brownies remained a huge fad until their last appearance in 1914. Like Pyle's work, Cox's Brownie books are still in print, and children continue to enjoy reading them today. The museum's collection is rich in Brownie illustrations, many of which will be on view in the exhibition.
The popularity of children's stories by both Pyle and Cox was partly generated by the widespread expansion of book and magazine publishing in the two decades between 1900 and 1930. After World War II, social change substituted stories with contemporary themes for the previously valued fairy tales for children. In the last 25 years, a boom in children's book publishing has revived interest in classic fairy tales and provided illustrators with rich subjects to render in new images.
The Brandywine River Museum is located on US Route 1 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. The museum is open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except Christmas Day. Admission is $6 for adults; $3 for seniors ages 65 and over and students; free for children under six and members. For more information, call (610) 388-2700.
Photography available upon request