Saturday, March 19, 2011

An interview with Linda Brewster, author of Rose O'Neill: The Girl Who Loved to Draw and Giveaway!

March 19 - Today's post provided by Paula Morrow, Editor and Publisher, Boxing Day Books, and Linda Brewster, author of ROSE O'NEILL: THE GIRL WHO LOVED TO DRAW
The publisher has kindly donated a copy of this book to be sent to a lucky reader
(see below for how to enter)  

What sparks artistic genius?

The childhood of Rose O’Neill (1874-1944) was impoverished in terms of wealth, yet it was rich to the point of overflowing in art, literature, music, and imagination. Armed with very little formal education, no formal art training, and her portfolio, O’Neill made her way to New York City at the age of 18. In a short time, she became the first female illustrator at PUCK magazine, the first woman cartoonist in America, and eventually the highest paid illustrator of her time. In 2008, Rose was honored by the National Women’s History Project.

Linda Brewster
Author Linda Brewster, herself an artist, was born the year Rose O’Neill died. Brewster grew up in the Missouri Ozarks near the O’Neill homestead, knew the O’Neill family, and has devoted her life to the study of Rose’s life and art. Here are Linda’s thoughtful responses to a conversation about Rose O’Neill:

PM: You have indicated that O’Neill’s vagabond childhood inspired you to write Rose O’Neill, The Girl Who Loved to Draw.

Brewster: If you look at the childhood of any great person, it will reveal their earliest thought and choices. The path they chose may not be a straight line and may take many twists and turns, but their greatness will point backward to where they began. Some people get a later start than others, but for the most part, their talents, interests and motivations show in their childhood. This was certainly true of Rose O’Neill.

PM: What elements of Rose’s early life played the greatest part in creating the focused and successful woman that she became?

Brewster: Rose O’Neill’s mother was a remarkable person. Alice O’Neill was raised as a “lady” in a house with servants. She was well-educated and studied piano and voice. During the Edwardian period, ladies didn’t have jobs or even think of careers. They sat at home doing needlework and hosting their husband’s parties. William Patrick O’Neill, Rose’s father, had a love of the literary arts. He spent his inheritance on a bookstore and art gallery. But he lacked knowledge of business management and within a few years he lost everything. When the family had to move from Pennsylvania to Nebraska to start over, Alice was the backbone. She learned to cook and care for a house without help. She home schooled her children while teaching piano to earn money for the family. Alice never told Rose she couldn’t be an artist or that she had to be a lady. Instead, Alice encouraged Rose to follow her dreams. This gave Rose the independence she needed to follow her heart.

Rose's first published cartoon 
PM: How can youngsters of today relate to and learn from Rose O’Neill?

Brewster: Young readers today can relate to Rose O’Neill as a mentor. All children, at one time or another, feel they don’t have the power to change or improve their situations. Rose O’Neill came from a family with few resources. She wore hand-me-down clothes, hand-me-down shoes, and was bullied for her poor appearance by children who had much more. But in spite of that, she discovered in herself what really interested her most—drawing. She loved drawing people and spent most of her free time studying how to draw. There were no art teachers, but because she was self-motivated, she found resources in her father’s book collection and in the public library. Rose O’Neill shows children that they do have the power to change and improve themselves if they focus, study, and seek people who can help.

PM: Ultimately, it seems O’Neill’s accomplishments as artist, illustrator, poet, novelist and sculptor were overshadowed by her greatest financial success. Today, she is celebrated as the creator of Kewpie, the whimsical character that first appeared as a comic strip on the pages of Ladies Home Journal in 1909, and in 1914 became a doll. To this day, members of the International Rose O’Neill Club gather every year in Branson, Missouri, to celebrate “Kewpiesta.” O’Neill’s art is still displayed in several museums, but she is known primarily as “the Kewpie lady.”

Brewster: While Kewpie brought her a fortune, it also brought her tremendous pain and distraction from her work. Rose was generous to a fault. She didn’t know how to say no. People lived like parasites in her homes and at her expense for years. Her fame, as a result of the doll, brought her a great deal of concern about unpaid bills that weren’t all her own. Fortunately, the Kewpies didn’t come along until she had been working for two decades, so she left thousands of drawings and paintings that demonstrate her great talent.

Self-portrait with Kewpies
PM: As an artist, O’Neill had many clients, but as a woman, her constituency was other women, and she fought fiercely for their rights.

Brewster: Rose O’Neill was born and lived as a liberated woman. She didn’t have to work at it because it came instinctively, due to the confidence she had in her own abilities. She used her fame to draw crowds to rallies and parades in which she marched. She created posters, fliers, programs, and ads depicting babies saying, “Votes For Our Mothers!” Even after the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, she continued to work against unfair treatment of women and minorities. O’Neill, who fancied flowing, loose-fitting garments, even became symbolic of the effort to free women from that most restrictive affront—the corset!

One of Rose's many magazine covers
PM: O’Neill was successful in many fields, as illustrator, artist, poet, author, sculptor, and women’s suffrage activist long before “feminist” became a word. What would you consider O’Neill’s greatest contribution?

Brewster: Rose O’Neill’s greatest single contribution was to go fearlessly into her profession, approaching editors and art directors with her work. She had no introductions or help; she boldly stepped through those doors alone. By being one of the first women to open the doors of the all-male establishments, and by showing that she could do the work, she made it possible for other women to follow.

Rose O’Neill died of a stroke at age 69. She is buried next to a crystal-clear mountain stream at the homestead she named Bonniebrook, in the hills of Taney County, Missouri. A museum there pays tribute to a lifetime of imagination, generosity, and creativity . . . lots and lot of creativity!

To win a copy of this book for your home, school, or public library:

Illustrator, poet, fine artist, children's author, sculptor, novelist, suffragist, and more...Rose made admirable contributions in many fields.  What other woman do you admire for her accomplishments in several different fields?  Leave a comment below with your answer and your e-mail; a winner will be chosen by a random number generator on March 31.


  1. It is SO exciting to see this book here - especially after Diane Browning's beautiful post about women artists at this site just the other day.

    This is a book I bought when it first came out & it's a gem. You must have it for your art shelves, women's history shelves, pioneer life shleves.

    I'm posting not to win a copy - I wish every poster good luck.
    It's a lovely book with great color & b/w illustrations.
    Any future artist will go bananas for it.

    In addition to everything Paula Morrow says here, I'd like to whisper these words that were part of the life of Rose, which Linda Brewster brings us, said so well -

    Conestoga wagon
    The Societe des Beaux Arts, Paris
    Carabas Castle
    Capri, Italy
    3 U.S. postage stamps
    Bear Creek, MO & crossing in 32 times in one wagon journey!

    many many many many many thanks to Linda Brewster & Paula Morrow!

  2. I'm not entering, but in terms of multi-talented people, I found out after seeing her at an event that Robin Preiss Glasser, illustrator of Fancy Nancy and many other titles, was a professional ballerina in addition to being a fabulous illustrator.

  3. Fascinating reflections on the life and work of Rose O’Neill.

    I’ve read Brewster’s The Girl Who Loved to Draw, and the book presents the fascinating story of Rose’s early life and emphasizes her determination to succeed as an artist and illustrator. The book’s illustrations show the range of Rose’s work from fanciful Kewpies to portraits of family life. A splendid book for art lovers and history lovers!

  4. One of my favorites is Hildegard of Bingen--composer, philosopher, poet, healer, abbot of a nunnery, adviser to popes and kings...

  5. Ooh, I agree--Hildegard of Bingen was a fascinating woman! I've read several biographies of her and was more impressed the more I learned.

  6. What a fascinating look at someone who is not as well known in the world of children's literature. I just read a book about Wanda Gag, and it seems there was a lot of interesting happenings in the field of illustration by women of that era.

  7. Thank you, Linda Brewster for your wonderful tribute to Rose O'Neill. Courage and bravery were her own. Her confidence rivaled only by Laura Ingalls Wilder, another Missouri woman.

  8. Even though I live in Missouri, I didn't know about Rose O'Neill. Thank you for enlightening me! The museum in Savannah, MO, has a wonderful collection of Kewpie dolls. A woman I admire who has contributed to more than one field is Isabella Beeton. Born in 1836, she wrote and published (along with her husband) magazine articles and books about a variety of topics. One book featuring cooking and household management was over 1,000 pages and is still in use today. She was also an accomplished pianist. Ms Beeton died tragically at age 28.

  9. I'm so happy to learn about this book! Rose's courage to become an illustrator in what was then mostly a man's field is a story I always like to hear. My own mother, without any training and responsible for a family of five, left her job in a drug store to pursue her dream of being an illustrator. She found success too, against many odds. We should all follow our dreams.

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  11. did
    Rose and Laura Ingalls Wilder meet?