22 Dec Brehm Christmas
By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian
With Christmas here, I thought I might look at some seasonal illustrations by a couple of Noblesville artists who became nationally famous. The period between the 1890’s and the 1920’s is known in the art world as the Golden Age of American Illustration, and two Noblesville brothers were important contributors to this movement. George Brehm (1878-1966) and Worth Brehm (1883-1928) grew up in Noblesville, graduated from Noblesville High School, and then left Indiana to establish careers as nationally famous artists. The Brehms created iconic images for national magazine covers and classic novels by drawing upon their memories of their Noblesville childhood. You can read more about them and other Hamilton County illustrators here.
George moved to New York in 1905 and became a regular contributor to several magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post, American Magazine, Colliers, Ladies Home Journal, and others. He did illustrations for authors like James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Edgar Rice Burroughs, William Faulkner, and many other lesser known writers. His friends and colleagues were people like Frederic Remington, Thomas Hart Benton, and Norman Rockwell. He married Katherine Bennett in 1912 and they had two children – Elizabeth and June. The family lived in New York and had a summer home in Martha’s Vineyard.
Worth followed his brother to New York and became known for his illustrations of children. His first success was a series of drawings published in Outing Magazine in 1907-1909. The series was called “When I Was a Boy” and was based on his memories of growing up in Noblesville. He followed this up with the illustrations for a 1910 edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, a 1912 edition of Huckleberry Finn, original illustrations for Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories, and a frontispiece for an edition of Toby Tyler, as well as many other illustrations for stories about young people. At the urging of his friend Johnny Gruelle, (the creator of Raggedy Ann), he joined the Silvermine art colony in Connecticut in 1912.
The images shown here are from popular magazines meant to go out during the holidays. Two of them are by Worth – the Edison Mazda advertisement from 1922 and the drawing of the people decorating the tree. The drawing is from a 1917 story called Junior Brewster, Holly Wreath Boy. The Edison advertisement is very much in keeping with Worth’s reputation for drawing children.
Three of images – Harper’s, Women’s World, and Technical World – are by George. The two images of women are typical of George’s work. However, the one that attracts the most comment is the cover of the Technical World magazine. People wonder why Santa Claus has a rifle. Actually, that is a painting of a soldier in the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars. The phrase “Peace on earth” was a commentary about the brutality of the fighting. Ironically, the Balkan Wars would lead a year later to World War I, where the brutality would increase exponentially.
George kept a connection to Noblesville through his friendship with Helen Fertig Thompson. Helen had been involved with the Noblesville Public Library since its creation and was president of the board for many years. It was through her that the library received several original works by the brothers. A black and white oil painting that George had created to illustrate a story in Ladies Home Journal was given in January of 1926 and two drawings were donated in November. Seven drawings by Worth, including one Tom Sawyer picture and three Penrod pictures, were given to the library from his estate in July of 1933. These can be seen in the Indiana Room at the Noblesville Library.