The Search for Art Young
By Caryn B. Davis
Marc Moorash is looking for Art Young, a long forgotten illustrator who after his death in 1943 through a series of bizarre circumstances, faded into oblivion.
“Art Young was the best known political cartoonist in the country the first half of the 20th century. He was on the forefront of trying to end child labor practices. He was anti big business. He dealt with the corruption of banks. He worked with Margaret Sanger on the suffrage movement. You could take ninety percent of what he illustrated, publish it today, and it would be relevant. We are still dealing with the same issues,” says Moorash, Curator for The Art Young Gallery.Young was so popular and prolific he was featured in at least ten major publications each month including Life, The Saturday Evening Post, The Nation, Colliers Weekly, Cosmopolitan, New Leader, and The New Yorker.
He was a controversial figure and ahead of his time. He considered himself a socialist and emphatically stood up for what he believed in the only way he knew how, via ink and charcoal.
He was a co-editor and a contributor to The Masses, the first literary journal dedicated to socialist politics in the country. One of his cartoons, “Poisoned at the Source” published in 1913, caused the Associated Press (AP) to sue him for libel. The illustration showed AP’s president Frank B. Noyes, “poisoning a w
ell labeled “The News” with lies, suppressed facts, slander, and prejudice.”
Young was appalled by AP’s scant coverage of the yearlong 1912 Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike in West Virginia where miners on Paint Creek were demanding the same compensation as others in the area. The feder
al government at the insistence of the coal companies declared martial law, and violence ensued. Max Eastman, who penned the cartoon’s accompanying editorial accusing AP of concealing facts to help the coal companies, was also sued. After their lawyers subpoenaed AP’s records, the suit was dropped.
This is but one example of Young’s commitment to exposing injustices whether capitalist, racist, sexist, or otherwise, in hopes of eliciting change.
After The Masses folded in 1917, Young helped establish The Liberator, a publication similar in its voice. He also worked with Metropolitan Magazine as a Washington correspondent until he was fired for his anti-war illustrations.
But Young was also beloved and unfortunately, always broke. He did countless drawings for labor publications without pay. He couldn’t deny them because the message was too important. He could have improved his finances by working for magazines whose views he opposed. Instead, he remained true to himself and worked only with publications that served the greater good, although those jobs were scarce.
“In 1934, his friends had a benefit for him. They raised enough money to send him $100 a month to live on for the next 8 years. This was a lot of money back them,” says Moorash.
Still, somehow, Young scraped together enough cash to build an art gallery in Bethel, Connecticut where he resided, to exhibit the more than 5,000 original cartoons he created. But eighteen months before he passed away, Young was broke again. He was forced to sell the building and move with his collection to the Irving Hotel in Manhattan.
“When he died, all his possessions wound up in police custody. Then somehow they got rescued and locked away in a warehouse for the next 20 years. A number of his friends paid the warehouse fees through the 1960s,” says Moorash.
Around this time Young’s son, in need of money, tried to sell his father’s collection to a university but found no one was interested in radical literature anymore even though not all of his work was political. He drew many other subjects including ordinary people as depicted in his unpublished book “Types of the Old Hometown,” a compilation of portraits from 1880 -1934. The scope of his work made it difficult to place Young into one neat category.
“What happened was the political folks, the workers, the labor movement, the socialists, couldn’t claim Art because they didn’t know what to do with “Trees at Night” and “Types of the Old Hometown.” Folklorists couldn’t claim him because the political drawings didn’t match what they wanted. No one could claim him without having to ignore a section of what he did,” explains Moorash.
Instead, a bookstore bought the collection for a mere $11,000, selling it off piecemeal without any regard for whom this man was, his value, or contribution.
“This is a once in a lifetime collection of this man’s entire creative life. They think they sold it all, but it turns out seventy-five percent of the estate got pushed to the back of the warehouse and forgotten,” says Moorash.
Moorash and his wife, Ava Heydt are handmade bookmakers with a company called Seraphemera Books in Bethel. Moorash is also a writer, researcher, and storyteller. He first learned of Young through a book written by Bethel’s town historian who insulted him for opposing the “The Doughboy” statue erected downtown. He insinuated Young was anti-veteran, when he was really anti-war. This amused Moorash.
“When I discovered he lived in Bethel from 1904-1942 and built an art gallery a mile from here, I looked deeper. I came across “Capitalism,” which is the one piece that out survived his name and was reprinted numerous places. It’s a big fat capitalist pigging out, leaning back in his chair, about to fall into the abyss. It spoke to me because it’s relevant today,” Moorash says.
Moorash found William Reece Company, a rare book dealer in New Haven that had some of Young’s letters to his wife for sale. Terry Halladay, the proprietor, gave Moorash an opportunity to read them. Halladay also showed him Young’s original “Capitalism” drawing which he promptly purchased along with the letters.
“When you wind up with a piece like that in your hands you realize you are a steward of something,” says Moorash.
Halladay introduced Moorash to another Young enthusiast and collector named Glenn Bray who had more of Art’s letters. The two began collaborating.
“He also had Art’s last manuscript. I said, ‘I am a bookmaker’,” says Moorash.
From that came the handmade, hard cover limited edition of “Types of the Old Hometown.”
Moorash, who is on the board of directors for the Bethel Historical Society, proposed an exhibition of Young’s life in the society’s museum space. The show came together through a variety of sources.
“Glenn had 700 pieces. A guy in Chicago had a few hundred. He is your typical art collector where you don’t get access. The bookstore that originally acquired the estate still has 1000 illustrations. Dealing with them is like trying to get through the gates of hell,” says Moorash.
When Young’s relatives learned about the exhibit, they came forth with artwork, photographs, ephemera, and books including Young’s personal bound volume of his literary journal “Good Morning,” that Moorash and his wife are reviving.
The exhibition was held this past spring, and Moorash is now creating a permanent space for a rotating collection of Young’s work.
“Because we are an historical society, we can come from an historical perspective and show Art’s life and not just his illustrations. He lived here. Everyone knew him and loved him. He is defined by the people from all walks his of life and the wonderful things they said about him,” says Moorash.
Moorash is in the midst of figuring out the lineage of all the pieces, gathering more, and writing a biography about him.
“What sets Art apart, what made him friends with everybody who crossed his path, is his observations and commentaries were truthful, kind, and set with one goal in mind – the betterment of the daily life of every person – the worker, the child, the woman, the veteran,” Moorash says.
We could use a little more Art Young in everybody.
For more information log onto www.seraphemera.org.