Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Artist - Bernhardt Wall


If you von't, Vy von't you, vot?

3 1/2" x 5 1/2"
circa 1910s
Postcard
by Bernhardt Wall for S Bergman Co
marked: S 68
divided back

Bernhardt Wall (1872 - 1956) earned the nickname, the Postcard King, through the vast amount of design work he did on postcards. His work appears on many different publisher's cards. He is credited as having created over 5000 postcards including many series like the very recognizable Sunbonnet Girls (aka Sunbonnet Sue) and Overalls Boys. These figures wore large white bonnets with red dresses or straw-looking hats with overalls. The hats obscured the faces of these characters. Some of the Ullman cards featuring sunbonnet figures give credit for the illustration to "Uncle Milton", a pen name sometimes used by Wall.  Now whether or not he originated these characters is questionable despite the artist's own claims. Some sources do credit Wall for this, but Bertha L. Corbett who designed the sunbonnet girl for Dutch Cleanser and illustrated a book on sunbonnet babies among other sunbonnet items may more properly deserve credit. None the less, Wall's interpretations remain very popular and there are several groups like a day of the week series and a series of each month of the year (both published by Ullman) to collect. Wall also created characters in wide-brimmed red hats that are similar but whose faces can be seen.


To My Valentine ~ I ain't good looking but, I iss cute, vot?

4" x 2 1/2"
circa 1880s, 1890s
Postcard
by Bernhardt Wall 

for Gibson and Co


As was popular at the time, Wall did many cultural characters like the Dutch themed cards shown here and cards depicting black Americans. His take on African Americans reflects the prejudices common and generally acceptable in the society of his time such as the 1906 series for Ullman titled Cute Coon Series No. 70 and another group also for Ullman titled Little Coon Series No. 59. These were filled with unflattering, stereotypical imagery as one might guess from the chosen titles. Wall was kinder in his depictions of women suffragettes - a topic often derided by some other cartoon card creators. The number of women in the field (well before it was normalized for women to work outside the home, illustration work in books and on cards was often done by women some who became quite famous) ensured that not all treatments of the topic were against votes for women.  He is also well known for his propaganda cards mocking the Germans during WWI. His experiences in Cuba with the military during the Spanish American War probably influenced his desire to participate in WWI in such a way. 

While our interest lies mainly in the valentine cards designed by Wall, his more highly valued work is to be found in the etchings he created, especially those he created to go along with his work as a historian. It is thought that his postcards earned the money to enable Wall to do his preferred work as a lithographic artist which was not as lucrative at the time. According to a story in the July 15th, 1916 edition of Bruno's Weekly, Wall was fond of traveling in his car with plates at the ready to etch things as they struck his fancy. He preferred this to asking people to sit in a studio for him. It is claimed he did such an etching of Mark Twain as Twain spoke at a branch of New York City's YMCA.

As well as his work published by a variety of companies, Wall published quite a bit of his own work too. Many of his books and other items such as bookplates were created by the artist himself. These items tend to be rather difficult to come by as quantities were more limited than his postcard designs. Other difficult to find items include water colors, such as his 1898 paintings of scenes of Cuba found in the collection of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Political figures were also a favorite subject appearing in etchings and as subjects for both postcards and books. He did a series of 'Following' books: Following General Sam Houston 1793-1863 (1935), Following Andrew Jackson (1937), etc. Of special interest among his publications is the series of miniatures from 1948, The Etcht Miniature Magazine. Each volume in the 12-month series was limited to 60 copies with text and illustrations all etched and printed in colored inks.

Wall died on February 9, 1956 in California, which had been his home since the death of his first wife. He was by that time considered a respected historian of the American West. His books, which he printed and bound himself, are to be found in the collections of several well-regarded universities as well as those of many prominent collectors. 



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Companies Wall is known to have worked for:

  • Barton and Spooner
  • Bergman
  • Gibson Art Co
  • Illustrated Postal Card Co
  • International Art Co
  • J. I. Austen
  • Ullman Mfg Co
  • Valentine and Sons

Sources: 

  • Bruno's Weekly, July 15, 1916
  • The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer, Vol 43, July 15, 1915, p 98
  • Antique Trader Black American Price Guide by Kyle Husfloen

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