Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Marvellous Misattribution of Oz

An image on a greeting card will hopefully renew interest in its creator, especially since the credit for his work was given to someone else. This simple yet significant error should also stoke ongoing debates about certain copyright issues and further prove the need to credit artists for their work.

For decades, museums and other visitor attractions have sold books, prints and trinkets to help raise funds needed to continue their operations. An article from The Pittsburgh Press in January 1979 shows Max Leason's success in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, overseeing the sale of prints of famous paintings from their collection. Today, tourist sites and publishing companies have combined online to sell such products nearly anywhere in the world where access to the internet is readily available.

If you are in a museum shop and you see cards, magnets, tablet cases and so forth adorned with old book covers, adverts from long ago, nostalgic children's book characters or artwork of contemporary and classic artists, then you are observing the merchandise from one of these companies.

Take for example this card featuring the cover from an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is produced by Museums & Galleries Ltd, and its sale raises money for the British Library.

Card design copyright Museums & Galleries Ltd 2014; Cover copyright The British Library Board 2014; Card can be purchased online at

L. Frank Baum's first and most famous story from his 14 book series has been reprinted numerous times. It's been adapted into many other formats, translated for readers all over the world and even continued by a troop of successive authors each hoping to be considered by fans as the next true "Royal Historian of Oz".

Oh yes, you *might* have seen a film of the story, too.

The original illustrator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was William Wallace Denslow and arguably the most well-known artist, certainly the most prolific, was John R. Neill who drew the pictures for 36 of the subsequent Oz books written by Baum, then Ruth Plumly Thompson followed by Neill himself. Two books illustrated by Frank Kramer and one by Dirk Gringhuis followed. There was also Dick Martin though he possibly did more to make Oz famous by being a long-time leader of the International Wizard of Oz Club and editor of its magazine, The Baum Bugle.

Artwork by W. W. Denslow, copyright Dover Publications Inc 1960, originally George M Hill Company 1900

Artwork by John R. Neill, copyright L. Frank Baum, Reilly & Lee 1913

Artwork by Frank Kramer, copyright Reilly & Lee 1949

Hundreds of artists, familiar and unknown, have placed their artistic spin on the fantastical characters from this magical land. Indeed, there are collectors of Oz books as the first picture of this post clearly shows.

So, who is the artist of the cover that appears on this card? The back of the card gives this info:

card design copyright Museums & Galleries Ltd 2014; Please do consider buying this card - funds go to help the work of British Library

So the card shows W. W. Denslow as being the creator of the art featured. Well, let's play a game of "spot the difference".

Artwork by W. W. Denslow, copyright Dover Publications Inc 1960, originally George M Hill Company 1900; Artist to be revealed later, copyright Maud G. Baum, Bobbs-Merrill Company 1939

How many differences have you found? There's at least one major difference. The illustrator.

How did the mix-up happen?

Museums & Galleries Ltd produces cards and other items that not only support sites like the V&A and the Fitzwilliam but also charities such as the British Heart Foundation, NSPCC and Shelter. Though the cards can be sold anywhere, including many specialist stationary and arts and craft shops, the images that appear on their products are usually sold in the shops of the organisations that hold that artwork in their collection. Museums & Galleries Ltd, and any similar companies that exist, undoubtedly have rules and practices in place to ensure that the images they use are done so legally and correctly, so one image isn't placed with the wrong description or to avoid simple, easy to make typographical errors.

Products from the Museums & Galleries ranges would seem to have at least a little extra quality control already built into their system. The data with which they are provided is almost assuredly correct considering its source, some of the most prestigious academic organisations in the world. But anyone can make a mistake.

What was the source of the information for the Wizard of Oz card? The catalogues of the British Library. So what went wrong? Take a look at the record for the book from which the cover image is taken:

Though bibliographic records are used, shared and referenced all the time, this is a piece of data and can be considered intellectual property - the image also shows bits and pieces of graphics from the British Library website, therefore, image and data copyright The British Library 2016

All the information in this record is correct, just not complete - accurate but not necessarily applicable to the image from the card. The trust placed in this resource is understandable. The data is coming from the British Library, that's pretty impressive. But that confidence made the users surpass a simple step - check, double-check even, your data. Yet, how often does anyone question anything read in a newspaper or from an Internet based news site? With the speed in which the data is thrown out, everyone should practice vigilance but rarely anyone does. The warning flag in this case should have been the obvious lack of details. The record is even written out in full English, no old fashioned abbreviations or terms like "et al". It clearly states "illustrated by W. W. Denslow and others". Who are the other illustrators? What are the other books? Books about Oz, but not all titled The Wizard of Oz, in fact, by strict catalogue standards, none of the books bear that exact title.

There are dozens more questions that spring to mind, but most are probably only to the interest of a cataloguer. Other than the additional illustrators, the only crucial mystery is why is the record so sparse, what's the reason for the lack of detail? Investigating these books at the British Library, my guess (and only a guess) is the materials were considered to be more of ephemera than items worthy of keeping in the collection. Perhaps the plan was to either withdraw them or update the record later and the plan was never fulfilled. One of the items is a colouring book, another is a "paint" book. One item, though nearly a complete reprint of the original Oz story with lots of Denslow illustrations (yes, for sure, Denslow), the book was obviously just a fancy ad for the famous MGM film of 1939. The cover reads "Read the book-- See the film --" and says in addition to the Denslow pictures "also a coloured still from the £750,000 MGM coloured film". Even the book that is featured on the card is a mere ten pages in which approximately four-fifths of each page is picture and the entire story is summarised into approximately 500 words. Now, with about seventy years of hindsight from when the books were submitted to the collection, these are items that the British Library are fortunate to still have. Some of these items are completely British in origin while others are British editions of the American version, thus showing the international appeal of what many call "the" American fairy tale.

So, would a more detailed catalogue record have prevented this mistake? Maybe not.

Put yourself in the cataloguer's seat and collate all the details you can for this book. Here's the actual book:

copyright Bobbs-Merrill Company 1939

And here's ALL the bibliographic data from inside the book:

copyright Bobbs-Merrill Company 1939

Notice the obvious problem?

The artist isn't credited.

Additionally, or rather absently, the UK version of this book which is owned by the British Library and was published by Hutchinson, doesn't have ANY bibliographic information like the US version. The fact that Hutchinson was the publisher is known only because their name appears on the cover of the British book.

Here, I would normally show images of what I was discussing, in this case the UK cover of the book and inside page with the (missing) bibliographic data, but there is a slightly different copyright issue in the way. Most of the images in this post are legitimately out of copyright, though their details are given as if they weren't. This is done to fulfil some readers' curiosity about the sources of the images but also to emphasise some of the points being made in this post such as giving credit to artists for their work and crediting sources. Images still covered by copyright are being used in the understanding of "criticism, review and reporting current events" and "fair dealing" alongside the practice of "sufficient acknowledgement". (

All ten pictures from this book, as well as the front and back cover, along with many pictures from Denslow, are available for use with a license from the British Library. Images Online ( is a system the British Library runs to control the use of resources within their care whether they are in or out of copyright. The idea is hardly new, places like Bridgeman Art Library have been around since the 70s and many auction houses have a similar service like Sotheby's Picture Library. There are many online image collections, some reputable, some with issues, the most common problem being, whether accidental or intentional, theft of intellectual property as many comic book artists and cartoonists can attest to, having seen their work slapped over all sorts of merchandise without their consent or share of profits.

In the case of The Wizard of Oz Picture Book, since the British Library has a copyright on their images of this out-of-copyright book, I will not trespass on their holdings. Since I have no UK copy of the book, I cannot make my own images. However, feel free to visit the above link and, for a short while at least, type "Denslow" and "Oz" into the search box and view the results. Of course, at some time in the near future, you will have to type the correct name of the actual illustrator of these pictures.

So, who is it?

Return to your cataloguer's chair and the image of the bibliographic data. Do you see anything in the picture? Look closely at the very bottom right of the artist's work. No, that's not just blades of grass, that's a signature. Things still aren't quite perfect. To my eyes, I originally misread the name as "Larson". But the signature is clearer in other pictures, and it says "Leason". Before the Internet and thus access to almost every other libraries' catalogue, you were a fortunate facility if you had access to authority records. With these records, also called authority files or control files, you might have been able to track down the illustrator and even better, the correct illustrator, especially with such a less common name. Thankfully the artist wasn't named Smith. But even with an uncommon name, such a search isn't guaranteed. If you found the books The Open Sea and The Wonderful Story of the Sea both by A. C. Hardy, you would be certain they were the same person. Be assured however, that Sir Alister Clavering Hardy and Captain Alfred Cecil Hardy are two very different people with many other very different books.

There is a name for this artist. He is Percy Alexander Leason, and what an artist he was. If you want the facts (and you do) these resources already contain much better jobs than I would ever do:
I will make these brief statements. Percy Leason was an accomplished cartoonist - he was hired at the Sydney Bulletin when David Low came to England and later in Melbourne he created the single pane comic that would make him locally famous called Wiregrass. In the company of fellow artist Max Meldrum he would embrace and master the school of Tonalism and in 1934 he completed his most majestic project of all, 28 portraits of Aboriginal Australians who were alive in the last years of Queen Victoria's reign. These works were seen as controversial at the time but a revival exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery of Australia from 1999-2000 brought them to the eyes of modern Australia who understood their historical and social value. Upon moving to America he obtained a little work in illustrating children's books including of course, The Wizard of Oz Picture Book and a tome that has to be described as "lovely" as it was a "huge" part of my childhood, The Big Book of Dogs. (It was my sister's book, but boy did I look at it all the time!)

artwork by Percy Leason, copyright Felix Sutton, Grosset & Dunlap 1952

He spent several years teaching art in schools and privately and was commissioned for several portraits, too. Sadly, throughout the 50's, work disappeared and his health declined. In a biography accessible by the first link above, his son wrote:
"He died on Staten Island, New York, practically penniless and very despondent at not having received adequate recognition for his labours."

And that's what this post is mostly about. Recognition. Because a publisher simply didn't put Percy Leason's name on the cover of a book all those years ago one of the finest institutions in Britain has passed his work on to someone else. It is with either none or complete irony, that the revival exhibit of his Aboriginal portraits was entitled, "Recognition". Samples of that work can be seen here:

I think some members of his family, obviously and understandably proud of his work, are behind this Facebook page with lots of his art:

It's a fantastic coincidence, that the object in question is a card being sold today to raise money for a "museum", just like Percy's son, Max Leason used to sell at the National Gallery in Washington DC years ago.

It's also a problem that hasn't gone away. Artists who decorated our lives in children's books and comics and posters and cartoons are thrown away from our memories like rubbish. Some lucky ones are occasionally remembered in waves of nostalgia and a few long-time illustrators like "long-ago" Beatrix Potter and "here-today" Quentin Blake have been cemented in our minds. But some artists, once loved and still important, like Charles Keeping and Erik Blegvad or Faith Jacques (the first illustrator of the UK edition of Charlie and Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl) and Pauline Baynes (illustrator of Narnia AND Middle Earth AND the old Watership Down cover) are all but gone from the collective consciousness.

Wonderful artists still don't get credit either. Book reviews, promotional materials, award lists, even still the actual books themselves often don't mention the artist. HUGE thanks (and often HUGE HATS) to Sarah McIntyre and her campaign PICTURES MEAN BUSINESS which you can learn about here:

Finally, what next?

First, shortly after posting this story, I shall visit the British Library's website again and request additions be made to the catalogue record. It will be fairly easy, especially since Percy Leason is already in the BL catalogue for his work in poetry books and western adventure stories.

image and data copyright The British Library 2016

Second, I am sure after a quick message that Images Online will update their records and show the name Percy Leason next to his colourful, lively and wonderfully artful images of Oz (look at "the triangle" in the picture where the Wizard flies away or "the s curve" when the characters discover the Wizard behind the screen).

Third, I hope (hope, hope, hope) there might be the possibility of reprinting the card this time with Percy Leason's name on it. This might be too expensive to contemplate. The card may not be selling well, which would explain why no Oz fan has yet to say, "wait a minute, that's not Denslow . . ." It may be necessary to sell the current stock. Who knows? But as I wrote earlier, please consider buying this card - funds go to help the work of British Library.

image and data copyright The British Library 2016 Go ahead, buy a misprinted one and then buy a corrected one if they reprint it!

I also can't help but hope maybe the British Library can do "a little something" extra to help give Percy Leason some recognition. Maybe a small exhibit of Oz books in the lobby? A feature on portraiture or Tonalism with some of his works? Again, who knows? They're good and busy people there, you should go if you have never been. It's got a great gift shop!

And for all of us - remember that book you loved as a kid? Who did the art? Do you know? No, then find out. Yes, tell people about it. Find out about that person. What other work did they do? Are they still alive? Write them and say thank you. But don't let them become forgotten. Everybody likes a little recognition.

Until next time - Read, Care, Create
The Library Spider

[Disclaimer - The use of screenshots or other images in this post is in no way meant to be a breach of copyright law.  The images are being used to validate the text of this post.  All text and images are the intellectual property of their individual creators and this writer makes no claim to their authorship and will receive no financial gain from their clearly evident educational and journalistic use.  Images may have been altered to show only the detail needed to verify the facts of this post.]