Friday, July 19, 2013

"You see, I am stuffed, so I have no brains at all."

"When I was a boy," L. Frank Baum told a newspaper in 1904, "I was tremendously interested in scarecrows. They always seemed to my childish imagination as just about to wave their arms, straighten up and stalk across the field on their long legs. I lived on a farm, you know.  It was natural then, that my first character in this animated life series was the Scarecrow..." (Michael Patrick Hearn, The Annotated Wizard of Oz)  
Baum introduces his first Oz character with these words: 
"There was a great cornfield beyond the fence, and not far away she saw a Scarecrow, placed high on a pole to keep the birds from the ripe corn ... Its head was a small sack stuffed with straw, with eyes, nose and mouth painted on it to represent a face. An old, pointed blue hat, that had belonged to some Munchkin, was perched on this head, and the rest of the figure was a blue suit of clothes, worn and faded, which had also been stuffed with straw. On the feet were some old boots with blue tops, such as every man wore in this country, and the figure was raised above the stalks of corn by means of the pole stuck up its back."
Fifteen years after the first book, the Scarecrow become the title character in Baum's The Scarecrow of Oz . The Scarecrow "type" seems to go through minor variations in the early years.
It's hard to imagine any other actor playing the part of the Scarecrow other than Ray Bolger. However, he was originally cast as the Tin Man. As fate would have it, the roles were switched prior to the production. Personally, I always felt a little bad for the Tin Man and Lion when Dorothy confesses to the scarecrpw, "I think I'll miss you most of all," before climbing into the balloon. Later I learned that MGM had a love interest plot between Dorothy and Hunk, the farmhand who became the scarecrow in Dorothy's dream, linking the two. Thank goodness someone had the brains to not go there.
Dorothy: Now which way do we go?
Scarecrow: Pardon me, this way is a very nice way.
Dorothy: Who said that?
[Toto barks at scarecrow]
Dorothy: Don't be silly, Toto. Scarecrows don't talk.
Scarecrow: [points other way] It's pleasant down that way, too.
Dorothy: That's funny. Wasn't he pointing the other way?
Scarecrow: [points both ways] Of course, some people do go both ways.

A more recent image (2008) of the Scarecrow for Marvel Comics by the creative team of Skottie Young and Eric Shanower.
For the Museum's Wee Faerie Village in the Land of Oz faerie Scarecrow, the illustrator took a walk on the wild side, literally. According to Miller, the scarecrow faerie "had the potential to go in so many different directions. But I knew he would be made out of garden detritus. I spent the most time wandering through the neighbor's garden thinking about this character. I brought a lot of stuff into the studio from the garden. Which helped on the rest of the character concepts too."
The final design paid homage to some of the earlier faerie illustrations using maple seedling for wings.

David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Friday, July 05, 2013

"If I Were King of the Forest!"

The Cowardly Lion's song in the 1939 MGM film says it all: "Yeah, it's sad, believe me Missy / When you're born to be a sissy / Without the vim and verve ... I'm afraid there's no denyin' / I'm just a dandylion / A fate I don't deserve." Nevertheless, the character of the Cowardly Lion was placed on the cover of the original 1900 edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. On the cover the Lion is shown wearing the green spectacles required of all visitors who enter the dazzlingly brilliant Emerald City.
L. Frank Baum gives the Lion a dramatic entrance: "Just as he spoke there came from the forest a terrible roar, and the next moment a great Lion bounded into the road. With one blow of his paw he sent the Scarecrow spinning over and over to the edge of the road, and then he struck at the Tin Woodman with his sharp claws. But, to the Lion's surprise, he could make no impression on the tin, although the Woodman fell over in the road and lay still. Little Toto, now that he had an enemy to face, ran barking toward the Lion, and the great beast had opened his mouth to bite the dog, when Dorothy, fearing Toto would be killed, and heedless of danger, rushed forward and slapped the Lion upon his nose as hard as she could, while she cried out:
    "Don't you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a big beast like you, to bite a poor little dog!"
    "I didn't bite him," said the Lion, as he rubbed his nose with his paw where Dorothy had hit it.
    "No, but you tried to," she retorted. "You are nothing but a big coward."
    "I know it," said the Lion, hanging his head in shame. "I've always known it. But how can I help it?"
One of W. W. Denslow's images of the Lion seems to capture the exhausted creature's comments in the MGM movie when he explains to his new friends that he cannot fall asleep:
Cowardly Lion: Look at the circles under my eyes. I haven't slept in weeks!
Tin Woodsman: Why don't you try counting sheep?
Cowardly Lion: That doesn't do any good, I'm afraid of 'em.
Here's a few Lion images of the early Wizard of Oz stage productions. 
Enter Bert Lahr, an actual Leo being born on August 13, 1895. Fresh from a theatrical career in burlesque and vaudeville, Lahr's vibrant portrayal of the Lion was a hit. His two singing solos in the movie might just balance his having to endure the heat the hot studio lights while wearing a heavy costume fashioned with real lion fur. Now, that's hot.
The image of the Cowardly Lion goes through myriad of manifestations in later books including his most recent homage as Brrr in Wicked author Gregory Maquire's A Lion Among Men.
For illustrator Aaron Miller, the task was to put faerie-esque wings onto the large furry Cowardly Lion. His solution was to imagine a fuzzy moth with wings detailed with lion paw markings. According to the illustrator regarding the Lion: "This was one of my favorites. I mixed the lion with a moth. Moths just have that fuzziness that was perfect for the lion character."
The first rendition was a tad scary until Aaron was able to provide the Cowardly Lion with some endearing eyes.
David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Why it's a man! A man made out of tin!"

This is how L. Frank Baum introduces the Tin Woodman:
"Just then another groan reached their ears, and the sound seemed to come from behind them. They turned and walked through the forest a few steps, when Dorothy discovered something shining in a ray of sunshine that fell between the trees. She ran to the place, and then stopped short, with a cry of surprise.
One of the big trees had been partly chopped through, and standing beside it, with an uplifted axe in his hands, was made entirely out of tin. His head and arms and legs were jointed upon his body, but he stood perfectly motionless, as if he could not stir at all."
The illustrator of the original publication, William Wallace Denslow, drew him like this.
This 1899 soap ad features a man made out of pots and pans. One theory behind the creation of the Tin Man was the author's earlier job as window dresser. He created a man out of washboiler, saucepans, and stovepipes parts and capped him with a funnel according to Michael Patrick Hearn.
According to Hearn, the biggest success for L. Frank Baum was taking the story from the page to the stage, and this happened as a vaudeville musical review as early as 1902. 
When MGM was in production for the 1939 movie, Buddy Epsen, known to millions for his role as Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies, was cast as the Tin Man. Unfortunately he had a terrible reaction to the make-up and was replaced by Jack Haley.
The story of how the Tin Man came to be is included in the original Wizard of Oz narrative. He was born human, the son of a woodman. After falling in love with a Munchkin girl whose mother did not want her to marry. The woman convinced the Witch of the East to enchant the young man's axe. It began to chop of various parts of his body. The local tin-smith fashioned one body part after the other until he was completely metal. In his haste, the tin-smith forgot to include a heart. He soon lost all the love he had for the Munchkin maiden. The story is more fully told in the 12th book in the Oz series, The Tin Woodman of Oz in which we learn the young man's name is Nick Chopper. 

The web if full of images of the Tin Man. This Steampunk version was created by Chaz Kemp. I also love the I (heart) Tin Man tee-shirt that is missing the heart. 
 So in thinking about our project, the illustrator Aaron Miller had to put on his thinking cap. This image of the Tin Man missing his funnel is by Ingvard the Terrible and is a perfect image for keeping an open mind.
Chicago illustrator Aaron Miller's task was complex. Not only did he have to re-think the Tin Man image for himself, despite the hundreds of Tin Man images already in existence, but he also had to conjure him as a faerie.
According to Miller, "He was inspired by some Christmas ornaments from when I was a kid. He's like a wind-up toy I guess. I wanted the idea to be that he needs a key to keep him wound rather than an oil can."

According to Miller, "He's made out of copper, tin, and aluminum I think. I'm pretty sure you can't mention iron. I think that's faerie kryptonite or something."
In making the faerie version, the wings were added and the traditional funnel needed to be swapped out for something more in scale with a faerie. Miller's thimble is the perfect solution.
Introducing the Tin Man Faerie for the Wee Faerie Village in the Land of Oz.

David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Friday, June 07, 2013

For the Birds

We are still a few weeks away from unveiling some of Aaron Miller's terrific artwork for the Wee Faerie Village in the Land of Oz so I thought I'd share the images we commissioned back in 2011 for Of Feathers and Fairytales.

The concept was that Miss Florence began to read some of her favorite fairytales to her cats one sleepy afternoon in Old Lyme. After she finished reading stories of princes and castles and fair maidens she remarked aloud that the stories were "for the birds." That's when the cats began to listen more closely and began to dream about all those fairytale (and perhaps tasty) birds. This illustration is based on a painting by William Chadwick of Miss Florence sitting on her red sofa in the front parlor.
The first thing we needed for our avian adventure was a storybook castle for the birds. 
 Then came Prince Chirpin. That was our best play on "charming."
 We had a contest to name the fair maiden, but in the end Princess Wrenivere seemed too perfect.
Lastly, we needed a little drama and magic in the castle and poof! Majicaw.

David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Upcoming Blog Entries:
  • Illustrating the Museum's October Events
  • Meet the Museum’s New Fantasy Illustrator Aaron Miller
  • Just C’Oz: Other Creative Endeavors Inspired by Oz

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In the Trees

Matthew Geller’s new sculpture, Anticipator, will combine bionic metal limbs with a tree from the Museum grounds. When snow was still falling (and falling) this winter, Facilities Manager Ted Gaffney and I considered the options with a tour of the grounds.

The Museum maintains an inventory of the trees
on our property, with notes about their health, care, and future management. Using the inventory, Ted and I identified several trees that are dead, and thus slated for removal at some point. We then sent a list of the trees along with pictures of each possibility to the artist. Matthew Geller needed a tree with a circumference that would allow it to support the metal limbs of his sculpture, but also one that would not be too thick or unstable when lying on its side.

The winner was star magnolia originally planted by Florence Griswold. It stood between her house and the Lyme Art Association. The tree recently died, perhaps due to damage from the sapsuckers that have made rows of small holes in the bark.
Star Magnolia planted by Miss Florence

Damaged bark

Although we regretted that the tree could not be saved, we liked the fact that a tree selected by Miss Florence could find new life in an artwork on a different part of her property. We think Miss Florence would have been delighted to see her tree incorporated into the sculpture, which will resemble an exotic hybrid not unlike the unusual plantings she sought out for placement on the grounds around her home.

In March, Geller came to asses the tree and make plans for how it should be cut to prepare it for his sculpture. Some limbs would need to be removed so that the trunk would lay flat on the ground. He also marked out an area near the river as the site for the sculpture.
Matthew Geller (left) evaluating the magnolia

Marking out the site of the final sculpture with flags and string

In late April, Lomas Tree Service came to cut the tree, with Museum staff and artist Matthew Geller looking on. Although they would normally cut the tree into pieces, they had to figure out how to fell the tree in one piece so that it would stay intact for use in the sculpture.
Removing unnecessary limbs
We held our breaths as the tree came down, and although some of the more rotten portions did crack off, the trunk survived its trip down to the ground.

After the fall

Lomas then used a crane to lift the tree into a truck, which drove it to our site for the sculpture. The trunk was gently lowered into place on the lawn near Marshfield, overlooking the Lieutenant River. In its current position, the misting branches will provide a screen through which to see the river—such a beloved motif for the Lyme Art Colony painters—in a new light.

Placing the tree on the lawn near the river

The trunk of Miss Florence’s magnolia has been resting in place, waiting for the arrival of its new bionic limbs from the foundry later this week. Matthew Geller will begin fitting the two together this weekend, the first step in bringing Anticipator to life!

Amy Kurtz Lansing