Though I received such heartening messages in response to my last post (thanks, friends!), I wanted to lighten things up a bit today with another entry in The Folklore Files. Initially conceived as a series of small features on the myths and lore behind the names of my products, I’m continuing to broaden the scope of the series with a look at the iconic work of Swedish artist Gustaf Tenggren (1896-1970). Indeed, as we saw in the last entry, the imagery associated with our folklore and fables is often as potent as the lore itself!
Scholar JoAnn Conrad succinctly describes the strange dichotomy of Tenggren’s carreer in the Swedish publication Barnboken: Journal of Children’s Literature Research: “Despite a prolific career that spanned from the 1910s through the 1960s, Gustaf Tenggren, the Swedish-born American illustrator is not a well-known name. His work, in contrast, is widely recognized and was, in mid-20th century America, ubiquitous.” (1)
Indeed, I was shocked to discover the ubiquity of Tenggren’s work. The sole illustrator for the annual Swedish folklore and fairy tale anthology Among Gnomes and Trolls from 1918-1926, Tenggren immigrated to America in 1920, where he worked consistently in advertising and magazine illustration. Hired by Walt Disney Productions in 1926, he was the chief illustrator for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and later did work for Bambi and Pinocchio. After leaving Disney in 1940, Tenggren went on to illustrate for the popular children’s Little Golden Books, including the best-selling The Poky Little Puppy. (2, 3)
It is, however, Tenggren’s illustrations for a 1923 edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that truly captivate me. Heavily influenced by the work of Arthur Rackham (4), these pencil and watercolor illustrations are exquisitely detailed, but it is his use of negative space that gives an almost dreamlike quality to Tenngren’s work.
Were you familiar with Gustaf Tenggren’s work? Do you have a favorite illustrator of fairy tales? Share in the comments below!
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