Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sanford Tousey (1883-1961)

Thomas Sanford Tousey was born in 1883 into the wild and wooly West, into a world full of cowboys and Indians, horses and horsemen, and gents who sported big whiskers and carried pistols in their hip pockets. Growing up on a thoroughbred ranch in east Kansas must have been exciting for the future artist, but when Tousey was just eight years old, his family gave up life in the West and moved to Indiana. Throughout his childhood, Tousey returned to his great-grandfather’s ranch near the Potawatami Indian Reservation, to relive the western way of life he had left behind. He later recounted his experiences in his first children’s book, Cowboy Tommy (1932).

Sanford Tousey (as he came to call himself) graduated from high school in Anderson, Indiana, in 1902.  For two years prior, he had earned seven dollars and fifty cents per week drawing daily chalk-plate cartoons for the Anderson Morning Herald. Most of that income went towards schooling at the Art Institute of Chicago under J.C. Leyendecker and Frederic William Goudy. After that, Tousey went further east, to Wilmington, Delaware, for studies under Howard Pyle, and to the Art Students League in New York. He finished art school in Paris and before long settled into a career as a freelance illustrator and cartoonist in New York. For the next twenty years or so, he made sales to leading popular magazines, including Ballyhoo, Collier’s, Harper’s, Judge, Liberty, Life, Puck, The Saturday Evening Post, and Scribner’s.

During the early 1930s, Tousey gave up freelancing and turned to writing and illustrating children’s books. Over forty titles followed the publication of Cowboy Tommy in 1932, most involving cowboys, Indians, horses, and the Old West. Tousey became one of the bestselling children’s book authors of his day. In addition to authoring and illustrating a series of biographies of famed westerners such as Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill, and Jim Bridger, Tousey illustrated books by others, including Boy on Horseback (1935) by Lincoln Steffens.

Tousey retired in the mid-1950s and died on June 28, 1961, at his home in Monroe, New York. His papers are at the University of Kansas.

Before The New Yorker came along, magazine cartoons typically looked like this drawing by Sanford Tousey from Judge, circa 1910. Take away the caption (and the fanciful element) and this cartoon could be an illustration for a short story.

Puck, Judge, and Life--the three great humor magazines of the time--were published in New York for a big city, East Coast crowd. Class and money were frequent topics of the cartoons and illustrations they published. So was new technology. Sanford Tousey specialized in depicting the automobile and the comic aspects of early motoring, as in this cartoon, also from Judge, also from about 1910.

Horseman Hal, Sanford Tousey, 1950
In his middle age, Tousey returned to the world of his youth, away from high society and automobiles and to the Old West. Cowboy Tommy (1932) was his first book for children. Many more books on cowboys, horses, Indians, and explorers followed over the next two decades. If Tousey is remembered at all today, it is for his books for children. 

Copyright 2010 Terence E. Hanley

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