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June 20, 2019

An Artistic Calendar

An Artistic Calendar

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

I’ve mentioned the Brehm brothers in this blog before, but occasionally it’s worthwhile to look at some of the individual projects that they did.

George Brehm struggled early in his career, like most artists, and worked at a variety of places. He went to New York in 1900, but had little success.  He returned home to Noblesville to look for other work. Fortunately, the Indianapolis Morning Star newspaper, (which is the ancestor of today’s Indianapolis Star), began publishing in June of 1903 and George was quickly hired on as staff artist. He soon became the featured artist.

George created drawings of court trials, railroad wrecks, notable visitors, and pretty women. He became known for his caricatures, which was ironic as most of his later work was very realistic.  When the Indiana legislature was in session, he drew politicians and other local celebrities.

In August of 1903, he started a series of caricatures of Indiana authors.  This was at a time when Hoosier authors were dominating the national press. It had become something of a popular culture joke, sort of like talking about movie stars in California today.

The authors Brehm that chose for the newspaper series were James Whitcomb Riley, Lew Wallace, Meredith Nicholson, Booth Tarkington, George Barr McCutcheon, Charles Major, Charlton Andrews, and George Ade. The authors themselves did not mind. George and his brother would later work with Riley and Tarkington to illustrate books. There were other prominent Indiana authors like Gene Stratton Porter and Theodore Dreiser, but the eight that Brehm chose were considered the premier examples of Hoosier literature.

The sketches became very popular and some of them were reprinted in the literary magazine “The Bookman”. Then the Star decided to publish them as a calendar for 1904. It was really just a promotional piece for the newspaper since the captions for the images were encouragements to subscribe. James Whitcomb Riley was the cover image and Charlton Andrews was cut from the list. The calendar sold for 50 cents.

It was very well received, and free copies were sent out to noted people. One was sent to Senator Albert Beveridge, who answered:

“Thank you for the Indiana Authors Calendar, which I have just received. I prize it very highly. Brehm is a great man. He is a genius. Again expressing my appreciation of your thoughtfulness, I am very sincerely, Albert J. Beveridge”

The only known copy of the calendar is at the Indiana State Library and will soon be scanned and put online in their digital collection. Other versions of the images can be found online at the Internet Archive (as part of scans of “The Bookman”) and Newspapers.com (as scans of the Indianapolis Morning Star).

George Brehm would return to New York and go on to a long career in illustration art, doing covers of the Saturday Evening Post, and being friends and colleagues with artists like James Montgomery Flagg, Thomas Hart Benton, and Norman Rockwell. However, it’s nice to know that one of his first successes was entirely Hoosier.