St. Nicholas an (ILLUSTRATED) Magazine for Young Folks

During it’s time St. Nicholas and Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks featured some of the most prominent authors but also illustrators of the time. Mary Frances Zawadski claims that the magazine played a very large role in celebrating artists and changing the way these artists looked at painting for children’s magazines. In her article, St. Nicholas Magazine: A Portable Art Show, she states that, “American artists were just beginning to return from their studies in Europe and demand their professional status, when publishing for children was still a small and unexplored area of publishing and book selling in America, and when American authors were only beginning to realize the potential of writing for children”(2). As a result the artists received much more fame because they’re paintings were readily available in a great deal of households across America. The illustrations in my two editions were done by woodblock printing like nearly all of the illustrations in every edition. One of the most frequent illustrators was Reginald B. Birch who grew says Steven Worth in his article, Magazine Cartoons: Reginald Birch and St Nicholas Magazine. Birch was born in London but moved to San Francisco where he worked printed wood block theatre posters in his dad’s shop. The reason I bring it up is because Birch is featured fives times between my two editions from 1881.

Here are two of them, the first depicts “The Archery Contest” by Sir Walter Scott, and the second one depicts “Hervé Riel” a poem about life at sea by Robert Browning. Worth goes on to claim that Birch was responsible for creating the “jolly bearded character in the red suit” which is an adaptation of Thomas Nast’s depiction in 1862 of Harpers Weekly. Nast’s version of Santa Claus was whole lot more ominous which looked liked this,

While Nast version made him a much more welcoming character on the cover of St. Nicholas Magazine in 1906.

This just goes to show the power St. Nicholas Magazine had, the created a whole new way to gain fame for authors and illustrators in writing and illustrating for kids. On top of that they created the Santa Claus we have come to know today! One of the other forms of illustrations found throughout every edition were puzzles and games for kids to do well exploring the other material in the magazine. They featured things such as mazes, crosswords, arithmetic puzzles, word squares, and various other puzzles. One peculiar use of illustration could be found in the “Illustrated Word-Dwindle” a game in which the reader had to come up with a word that describes the sequence of illustrations with the correct number of letters asked in the description. The illustrations featured in St. Nicholas were of some of the highest quality of the time as artists began to accept the “New School” of woodblock printing (Zawadski) because it enabled them to put their work in magazine’s instead of on canvas. Many of the illustrations serve as a visual aid to the stories at hand and there are many others that stand alone for children to consider on their own. One of the things the magazine did very well was show people what places around the world looked like without having to leave your home. The magazines included detailed illustrations of cities, monuments, and places all around the world often accompanied by a caption informing the reader about the place depicted in the illustration. Over the course of its life the magazine featured artists such as William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, John La Farge, Frederic Remington, and Kenyon Cox some of the most well known artists of their time. Zawadski argues that the magazine has not received enough credit for its influence on the world of book illustrations. St. Nicholas not only set a standard for quality of illustration in largely published works but it attracted the best artists in America to come contribute to the magazine because it was a great publicity tool for the artists themselves.