Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Story Time Stitches: Bess Bruce Cleaveland

 So far, you may have heard of the illustrators I've discussed.  But there are other illustrators that are less known.  One of the reasons is that quilters were/are very enterprising about the designs they use on their quilts.  As we continue, you will find that motifs could be from a variety of sources.

Today's illustrator is Bess Bruce Cleaveland.

Bess Bruce Cleaveland (1876-1966)

Born in Ohio, Bess graduated from the Pratt Institute of Art and then taught art for 6 years before she became a full time illustrator and artist.

Cover Illustration By Bess Bruce Cleaveland (1921)

Bess was known as the "Master of Normal Art"--Normal as in the schools that trained people to become teachers.  Throughout most of her career, she was known for doing various illustrations not only for children's books but for illustrating texts and school posters.  Bess believed in "art for children's sake" and boy does her career reflect that!  There are so many different creations she made that it is challenging to name them all!  Here are a few examples:

School Poster books for classrooms!

Jointed Toys!

  Coloring books including The Girl Scout Coloring Book in the 1920s:  

Paper Dolls:

Books for teachers:
From Primary Plans and Projects, Helpful Schoolroom Aids and Devices, 1927

If all that wasn't enough, her illustrations were featured in books and children's magazines.


I've never found official Bess Bruce Cleaveland quilt designs.  But her drawings lent themselves well to embroidery, particularly outline work.

This little girl appears on a coverlet I own.  I've seen it a number of times and probably you have if you study old quilts:

On the same coverlet:

Both images were featured in a Bess Bruce Cleaveland book in my collection and the size of the blocks match the illustrations perfectly.

An interesting aside--although the posters were published in the 1920s, teachers might have been using them decades later.  I found a number of teacher notes in this poster collection.  This particular note was dated 1948.

During the beginning of the pandemic, I think some of my friends thought I was crazy when I made wall hangings out of some vintage tea towels.  But there was a reason for my madness. Often t-towels of this sort were made overseas and sold in stores.  These towels were hand appliqued but I have no idea if they were done commercially or by one individual.

I wanted to preserve them because the applique reflected Bess's illustrations from a book  called Windmills and Wooden Shoes. Written by Maude M. Grant, a frequent collaborator of Bess Bruce Cleaveland's, the book was published in 1920.

There actually was a third dishtowel which featured this illustration...

but unfortunately my husband used the towel as a rag and threw it out 😒.  Hence I preserved the dishtowels as wall hangings so there could be no more confusion!

Bess was a very special woman.  She loved gardening and animals and made a special plea for people to not use Steel Traps in a 1931 letter to the editor.

Although she never married or had children, she continued to be devoted to children.  In 1950, at the age of 74, she decorated the nurseries of her local hospital:

She continues to be one of my favorite illustrators and I hope to one day make a quilt from her illustrations.  

I hope you enjoy her work too!

Have a safe and happy day!

Story Time Stitches ©2021, Michele McLaughlin

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure I've seen her work in the past, especially since my mother was a childrens' librarian and we had lots of books around the house. The drawings look familiar. Good idea about hanging the towels! My hubby reaches for whatever is closest...