Daily Archives: May 6, 2012

A Bit of Bridgman

I’m on the trail of yet-another-new-to-me-Salem-artist today:  Lewis Jesse Bridgman (1857-1931), an incredibly prolific illustrator of countless children’s books and historical sketches from the 1880s to the 1920s.  Actually, Bridgman is not entirely unknown to me, having seen a little exhibition of some of his whimsical images at our local frame shop (The Art Corner) a couple of years ago, and I probably could count all of his titles if I wanted too, but I’m a bit lazy today after the big house tour yesterday (hence the very late post).  So these images are just the tip of the iceberg for Bridgman, who should be a lot better known, I think.

Bridgman, usually credited as “J.L. Bridgman” and sometimes just as “Bridgman”, which tells you just how eminent he was after the turn of the last century, was born in Lawrence and moved to Salem after his graduation from Harvard.  He lived on Summit Avenue, off Lafayette, for much of his life but seems to have acquired a Boston address later on. He illustrated books by Rudyard Kipling, Annie Fellows Johnston, Sylvester Baxter, and Edith Robinson, as well as Mary Hazelton Blanchard’s popular Our Little (African, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Russian, German, Siamese & Eskimo–maybe more!) Cousin series. As his reputation grew, his name gets larger on the cover and title pages, until it becomes part of the title, as in Bridgman’s Kewts (1902), one of several books he produced for H.M. Caldwell, Publishers after 1900.

Here’s a very small sample of Bridgman’s work in print, in no particular order, but beginning with my favorite, PK Fitzhugh’s King Time: or the Mystical Land of the Hours (1908), another Caldwell title. With its clockfaced characters gallivanting through time, this is one of the most charming children’s books that I’ve ever seen, and I think it illustrates the range of Bridgman’s talents very well.

One of Bridgman’s own titles, Seem-So’s (1903), which plays with imagery and silhouettes in a very clever way, and a page from Bridgman’s Kewts, in which bald little creatures dressed in worldly costumes travel through the US (unfortunately the African Kewt is named Sambo):  here they are gazing upon a Newport mansion. Two more Caldwell titles from the same era:  an alligator in pursuit of a rabbit in Christmas Comes but Once a Year (1903), and the cover of Farmer Fox and other Rhymes (1904).

The decidedly less whimsical and colorful illustrations in Elbridge Streeter Brooks’ Story of New York (1888), one of Bridgman’s earliest commissions, are representative of some of the more “serious” historical and architectural illustrations that he did throughout his career, including pen and ink drawings of Salem landmarks and ships that he produced for the Essex Institute and Peabody Museum in the teens and 1920s.  Though he will probably be forever pigeonholed as a children’s book illustrator, Mr. Bridgman seems to have possessed the ability to depict nearly everything in a variety of mediums.  I couldn’t find a nice scan-able image, but I was particularly struck by his watercolor painting of a basement kitchen on Chestnut Street in the collection of Historic New England:  a rather simple scene, beautifully rendered.

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