If you’ve read here and here, then you’ll know I suspect that my great-grandmother might have decoratively embellished some books published by Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft Press. When I saw the Roycroft book that stated, “Illumined by Emilie Schellenberg”, when I read her diary, in which she mentions being paid for painting, and when I found a photograph in her scrapbook entitled, “Roycroft Den, East Aurora, New York”, I began to wonder how I might go about finding out whether or not Emilie Schellenberg Paull had ever been on Elbert Hubbard’s payroll.
I began to read books about Hubbard, two good ones being Felix Shay’s Elbert Hubbard of East Aurora and Charles F. Hamilton’s As Bees in Honey Drown: Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters. I went to my public library and researched what I could find. While much has been written about the “utopian capitalist” Elbert Hubbard, not much has yet been written on the women whose artwork enhanced his books and made them the collectible items that they are today.
I was also able to find out the names of the principal women artists who worked regularly on Hubbard’s books: Bertha Crawford Hubbard, Clara Schlegel, Minnie Gardner, and May Gordon. A comparison of the watercolors in the books known to have been embellished by Minnie Gardner and May Gordon shows only that they look much like the floral watercolors in my great-grandmother’s copy of Old John Burroughs I posted here yesterday. Though my evidence hints that the young Emilie Schellenberg may also have been an artist for Roycroft, it is nowhere near conclusive enough to prove this. (Note to new booksellers: Never try to make your research fit your agenda. It either definitively proves your point or it does not. Your customers will appreciate thorough research, even if it leads to a dead end.)
I was able to track down a woman from SUNY Buffalo writing her dissertation on the women of the Roycrofters and tell her my story. According to her, Hubbard did not keep detailed records of payment to the young women artists, many of whom only worked on a single book. Some of them were trained in art by the illustrator W.W. Denslow, who worked for Hubbard at the time.
Sadly, it seems my quest is a Quixotic one, as if it is not meant to be solved at this point. While there are more boxes in my parents’ possession filled with Emilie’s artwork and diaries, I have not yet been able to go through them to see if there are other clues. My own father, who knew Emilie as his grandmother, can not recall her talking about having sold her artwork or working on books or going to visit the Roycroft campus.
I wrote these posts to see if any of you readers are Roycroft experts who could suggest any other avenues of investigation. I’d like to make a trip to East Aurora, New York and visit the Roycroft campus, but that trip will have to wait until my kids are a bit older and I sell a few more books. Any other ideas?
Is it important that I know whether Emilie was a Roycrofter? Ultimately, it’s probably not. I’d just like to know. For me, it would be another longed-for connection to the world of books. If you can offer any other ideas for research, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the comments section below or via email at: chris @ bookhuntersholiday . com.
The last entry in the transcript of my great grandmother’s diary, written on January 16, 1902 reads, “It is pretty conceited to set down one’s small doings and affairs, but it is a way to revive old memories and bring back past affairs and bygone days and people. I can hardly believe I am the same person who wrote all the foolish nonsense this book contains, and probably in two more years will be equally amused to read what I now write.”
I am so grateful that she wrote it all down, even the foolish nonsense. I have learned much, not about a life that was made famous by art, but about a life that was artfully lived.
I’ll leave you with a few pictures: