Friday, June 18, 2010

Love and Chinese Lanterns - Katherine or Katharine Gassaway

To my Valentine.

4 1/2" x 4"
circa 1910s
Unusual Theme
Figures appear on Other Cards, sometimes Individually
made in Germany

Katharine Gassaway is another mysterious artist. Her work on valentines date (generally considered to be from around 1906-1909 but I believe may extend into the 1910s) to the same period of that of Ellen Clapsaddle and the early careers of Frances Brundage and Grace Drayton. It is a very short window for what is quite a number of creations to be produced. The earliest book illustration credit I found for her is from 1898.

Forget me not I ask of thee Reserve one spot in your heart for me.

4 1/2" x 5"
circa 1910s
Cannon and Paper Lanterns
Paper Puff has Verse Attached
made in Germany

It is easy to confuse her cards with that of Chloe Preston (whose work dates mainly to the late 1910s and 1920s) because they both drew children with wide-eyes and did many standing cards featuring honey-comb or paper-puff that are fairly similar in their layout. Some of the posing of her figures is also akin to that of Clapsaddle and Brundage. Adding to the difficulty is that she worked for some of the same companies as these other artists. Her subject matter is mostly children and she created many cards with Black or African American figures.

To My Heart's Dearest - Accept this, I pray, in place of a  line, And with it myself, as your Valentine.

cake opens to reveal layers of scrap decorations and paperpuff
7 1/2" x 5"
circa 1900s - 1910s
for Raphael Tuck and Sons
printed in Germany

Frances Brundage created some cards for Tuck that have similar characters and parts that open like this Gassaway card

Much of her work is unsigned, but some postcards have a very stylized signature with a round-cornered rectangular border encompassing it. That signature can be seen to read Katharine, with 2 a's and one e (not the more common Katherine), but you will find her most often credited by online sellers as Katherine. I recently saw a Christmas postcard with a copyright date of 1918 that had just the last name, Gassaway, without a first name and no border around it. The style of the illustration seemed to be in keeping with known examples of her work so its possible she used this less stylized signature on later cards.

She also illustrated some children's books, most notably a difficult to find version of Isaac Coale Jr's The Sambo Book published in 1898 by the Williams and Wilkins Co. Another is The Edge by John Corbin dating to 1914.

The dated Christmas postcard and the book illustrations dating to the 1910s, as well as a cover illustration for The Countryside Magazine suggest that it is possible that some of her valentines may also have been created in the midteens.

It is difficult to find biographical information on Ms. Gassaway. So far we have been unable to find even basics like birth and death years. She was most likely an American artist judging from her subject matter, though even this really is an assumption. It could be that the name is a pseudonym which would explain why so little is known about an artist whose illustrations were so popular. Ms. Gassaway remains an enigma - a puzzle that may never be solved.

Companies that Ms. Gassaway is known to have worked for:

  • Rotograph Co
  • Raphael Tuck
  • National Art Co
  • Ullman Mfg. Co

  • Valentine Treasury - Robert Brenner
  • Orange Coast Mag/Apr 83/Postcards 1869-1920s - Marie Eckess, Ph.D
  • Overland Mag/Jan-Jun 1899/Vol XXXIII - Bret Harte

1 comment:

  1. I bought a pen & ink by Alden Peirson and it was noted that his wife was Katherine Gassway and that both studied at the Art Students League in NY. He was born in Baltimore. I knew I had something by her so am sure it is a valentine as I have hundreds. Have not checked any sources to make sure.