I first discovered John R. Neill in college when I bought a postcard with one of his Jack Pumpkinhead and Sawhorse illustrations on the front. I found these characters simultaneously creepy and wonderful, and it retained an honorable place as one of my wall decorations for several years. (Did you use postcards as wall art?)
These two characters recur in the Oz books and are supposedly dumb as bricks. (I would kill for a dog that looks like Sawhorse.)
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In high school, Neill discovered his talent for drawing, and then dropped out of art school after a semester because he felt there was nothing for him to learn there. He then developed his skill while working at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Neill had to be persuaded to take the first Oz illustration gig after 3 meetings because he was so busy with his newspaper work.
He illustrated over 30 of the Land of Oz books beginning in 1904, written by L. Frank Baum and then Ruth Plumly Thompson. He’s best known for this work, but he also continued to illustrate for magazines and newspapers during most of his career.
Baum and Neill collaborated on The Sea Fairies, a book that Baum intended to be the first in another fantasy series, but it met with poor reception and the project was scrapped after the second book. Check out the illustrations:
Whaddaya think? Do you dig the illustrations from a hundred years ago? Do your kids? I love to hear what kids have to say about old childrens’ book illustrations.