Sunday, April 28, 2013

Frank H. Wagner (1870-1942) & Mary North Wagner (1875-?)

In doing my research for today's posting, I was reminded of an exchange from What's Up, Doc? (1972):

Hugh: I am Hugh.
Judge Maxwell: You are me?
Hugh: No, I am Hugh.
Judge Maxwell: Stop saying that. Make him stop saying that.

What does a screwball comedy from the 1970s have to do with Indiana illustrators? Only this: If you look for a Hoosier artist named Frank U. Wagner, you'll end up going down the wrong path and for a very long way. In the end, you will be lost. And why is that? Because the artist's name was not Frank U. Wagner, as people even from his own time often believed, but Frank Hugh Wagner.

Frank Hugh Wagner was born on January 4, 1870, in Milton, Indiana. A painter, sculptor, illustrator, and teacher, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago under Frederick Freer (1849-1908) and John Vanderpoel (1857-1911). Wagner exhibited at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and with the Hoosier Salon. Wagner also taught art--including illustration and cartooning--at Winona College in Winona Lake, Indiana, during its brief existence in the early 1900s.

Although Frank Wagner's name can be found here and there on the Internet, he is not well remembered. I can offer on his behalf two claims to fame. First, Wagner applied for and received a patent for a type of picture book now called a "tunnel book." Rather than explain the concept, I'll just show an image from the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent Office, dated June 11, 1912 (page 322):


The Hole Book by Peter Newell (1862-1924), published in 1908, the same year in which Wagner applied for his patent, is a similar type of book. I don't know whether Frank Wagner ever published a tunnel book, but at least he received a patent for just such a design. Note the name on the patent: "Frank U. Wagner."

Second, Frank H. Wagner drew the illustrations for Ten Little Brownie Men: The Second Brownie Book (1911), which was written by a brother-and-sister team, Nathaniel Moore Banta and Alpha Banta Benson. The Brownies, created by the Canadian illustrator and cartoonist Palmer Cox (1840-1924), were wildly popular in books, magazines, and newspaper comics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I'm not sure what relationship if any the Bantas had with Palmer Cox. In any case, Nathaniel M. Banta and Alpha Banta Benson of Renssalaer, Indiana, are subject for a blog posting of another day.

Frank Wagner was married to Mary Lovett North, an illustrator, painter, book designer, and lecturer in her own right. She was born on December 24, 1875, in Milford, Kosciusko County, Indiana. Her parents were Captain Samson Jackson North, a lawyer and a Civil War veteran, and Mary A. Egbert North. Mary L. North was also descended from David Grosset Drake (1759-1850), a private in the New York troops during the Revolutionary War. Like her husband, Mary L. North Wagner studied at the Art Institute of Chicago under Freer and Vanderpoel and exhibited at the Panama-Pacific Exposition and with the Hoosier Salon. Among her other teachers was the Hoosier artist William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). Mary also exhibited with the Chicago Society of Miniature Painters.

Alone or with her husband, Mary North Wagner wrote and illustrated a children's book called The Adventures of Jimmy Carrot (1911). She also wrote the lyrics for a song called "The Brownie" (music by Maude L. McLaughlin). The 1930 census listed Mary as a lecturer in art.

Frank and Mary Wagner lived in Milford, Indiana, and in Chicago and raised a large brood of seven children. Frank Wagner died on July 21, 1942, in Chicago. The date of his widow's death is unknown.

The cover, title page, and endpapers for Ten Little Brownie Men: The Second Brownie Book (1911) by N. Moore Banta and Alpha Banta Benson and illustrated by Frank U. Wagner. ("Stop saying that. Make him stop saying that.") Note that the lyrics to the Brownie song are by Mary North Wagner.

Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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