- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

A private collection of cartoon art spanning three centuries and consisting of some 36,000 works by more than 2,800 artists is one of the latest acquisitions of the Library of Congress. The collection, which came from Bethesda resident J. Arthur Wood Jr., 76, a cartoonist himself for much of his life, nearly doubles the library’s holdings of original cartoon and caricature drawings. Called “Cartoon Cornucopia,” it is considered the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind ever assembled. A major exhibit based on selected works is planned for spring 2005.

“This is more than just the usual ritual gratitude for adding a collection to the Library of Congress,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said at a press conference Tuesday morning where he hailed the works as “American cultural history at its liveliest.”

“I feel we are adding something important to America’s memory and in a way that will be accessible to all kinds of people because it represents the kind of thing that people immediately can react to…[and] at the same time reflect on and use for study.

“There is no reason why learning can’t be fun,” he noted after a mention of the library’s Web site as a classroom tool. Part of the collection can be viewed at www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann.

Valued at $20 million, the collection was mostly a donation with a portion paid for by a member of the Library’s Madison Council, a private sector advisory group. Included are 175 pieces of animation art that have been appraised for just under $1 million, as well as graphic art by masters such as Honore Daumier and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, the earliest American political cartoons, and illustrators’ drawings.

Among the treasures Mr. Wood had stored in top condition in his home over the years are storyboards from Walt Disney’s 1937 film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” drawings of “The Yellow Kid” American comic-strip character and such beloved strips as “Blondie,” “Krazy Kat,” “Peanuts” and “Terry and the Pirates.”

“He gave it to us for a pittance,” said Jeremy Adamson, head of the library’s Division of Prints and Photographs, pointing out that drawings on paper have become even more valuable as artifacts in a computer age. “Plus comic strips have become a much more important part of material culture. For research purposes, they aren’t just funnies; they carry all sorts of values to society at any one time.”

“The art market really has blossomed to include so many things like documentary photography and comic strips, because there is so much information, and yet it’s conveyed in a spontaneous, wonderful, creative way,” remarked Harry Katz, the curator of prints and drawings, who had his eye on the collection ever since Mr. Wood opened a museum of his works in downtown Washington in 1995. The museum closed in 1997 for lack of funding.

Tuesday’s event was something of a homecoming for Mr. Wood, who began his collection at age 12 and worked at the library as an elevator operator, hat-rack attendant and guide during high school. A graduate of Washington and Lee University, he was a military cartoonist in the Navy in World War II and later worked for the Richmond News Leader and the Pittsburgh Press.

“I don’t recall anybody turning me down,” he said of his efforts to solicit donations from living artists. He continues getting work from primarily young American cartoonists.

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