The D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library (DMGHL) recently acquired the John Held Jr. Collection, an archive of material belonging to American illustrator John Held Jr. (1889-1958). Best known for his 1920s flapper girls and cartoonish style, Held was one of the most in-demand illustrators at the height of his career.
The DMGHL’s collection of Held’s papers consists of a variety of material and documents from a time when the artist’s career was in decline, throughout most of the 1930s. These documents help to fill a biographical gap in Held’s life, as there is more prevalent knowledge of his life and career in the 1920s and later on in the 1950s. Many of the personal papers in this collection are from 1929, in the months just before and after the Wall Street crash which triggered the Great Depression.
Extensively documented in the collection is correspondence between Held and his third wife, Gladys Moore. The couple were married in 1932 and divorced a few years later. Their correspondence begins in 1929, when Held was going through a divorce from his second wife, and continues through his divorce from Moore in the late 30s. Much of Moore’s correspondence with her family is included as well.
The Helds were dachshund breeders and registered several dogs with the American Kennel Club. Two of their dogs were named Madam and Pretzel IV. Records related to their dogs are a part of the collection, including photographs, tags, and dog teeth!
Other photographs document a series of sculptures made by Held, including studies of dogs, horses, and cowboys. The latter is perhaps a reflection of Held’s attachment to the American West, as he was born in Utah and grew up in a Mormon home.
Scottish terrier sculpture (image right) by John Held Jr.
In addition to illustrating, Held was a writer. He published several novels and short stories during his lifetime. The collection contains several of his manuscripts—written first by hand and then on a typewriter—and published material.
Serving as a nice companion to the rest of the collection are a couple of magazine profiles on Held, including one from 1934 that discusses his opinion of the 1920s flapper contrasted with standards of beauty in the 1930s. In the interview, Held remarks:
The girls who happen to have the type of looks in fashion at the moment get so much self-confidence that they dominate the scene, while the poor girl whose looks don’t conform to the pattern, no matter how pretty she is, usually has to take a back seat where you hardly notice her. That’s partly why it gets to look as if each era has only one type of girl.John Held Jr.
The collection provides fascinating insight into who Held was as a person and sheds light on how he felt about his work, career, and, of course, his dogs. For more information about the John Held Jr. Collection, contact DMGHL curator Skye Lacerte.