Three Illustrators of "The Snow-Image: A Childish Miracle"

Article excerpt

Adding a P.S. to a letter to James Fields (14 November 1863), Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote:

   James G. Gregory of New York, art publisher, has written to me
   asking permission to publish the Snow-Image as a picture book, with
   colored illustrations. I should very much like to see it in that
   shape. Is there any objection on the score of copyright? And ought
   I ask anything (and what) for liberty to publish? 18: 615)

Though details of the arrangement to publish are unknown, an illustrated edition of The Snow-Image: A Childish Miracle appeared in 1864 under the James G. Gregory imprint. (1) It was a handsomely bound book, in either a dark green or crimson board binding with gilt lettering. He illustrator chosen to do drawings was Marcus Waterman.

A native of Providence, Rhode Island, and a graduate of Brown University, where he was not an art student, Waterman moved to New York City to begin painting and continued living there until relocating to Boston in 1874. He traveled widely, preferring exotic or desolate places, from which he drew inspiration as subjects for his paintings. His locales varied from rural Vermont to Cape Cod, from Europe to Northern Africa. He may have received informal instruction in painting during his travels in California from Thomas Hill and William Morris Hunt. He eventually settled in Italy, dying in Moderno in 1914, at the age of 80. He worked in both oils and watercolors and was a member of the American Watercolor Society. (2)

For "The Snow-Image" he drew five illustrations plus a decoration for the title-page. The first illustration (figure 1) serves as the frontispiece and depicts Violet and Peony, wrapped in winter gear, working on the snow maiden, Violet doing the shaping while Peony brings her a shovel of snow. True to Hawthorne's description of Peony, the lad's chilled cheeks show traces of crimson. Waterman's Violet seems perfectly capable of delicate touches as she performs her artistry.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

He title-page decoration catches up Hawthorne's interest in snowbirds (figure 2). But here Waterman's attention turns from the story itself to nature, always a favorite subject in his art. These birds will, however, be granted freedom to flit around the snow maiden in later scenes. And, as subjects for art, they will be prominently featured in the drawings of the other two illustrators discussed in this paper, Frederick Stuart Church and Sarah S. Stilwell-Weber.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Waterman executed four full-page illustrations for the text, the first treating the children as they prepare to hurl snowballs at each other. Responding again to Hawthorne's emphasis on the frigid weather, Waterman tipped his brush in red to give a blush to the children's faces (figure 3).

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

He second illustration (figure 4) renders Hawthorne's narration of the playful chase around the garden as the snow maiden comes to life and romps with Peony and Violet in the swirling snow. Here snow-birds flit above them or perch on leafless branches of a nearby tree. He chilly hands of the snow maiden grasp hold of Violet and Peony.

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

The third illustration (figure 5) depicts the arrival of Mr. Lindsey, heavily wrapped to protect himself from the cold. As snow-birds rest on her shoulders or flit above her, he looks upon the snow maiden, whose hair, catching up something of the gold in the wintry sunset, has a faint tint of gold, another of the touches revealing Waterman's close reading of the text. Sensibly dressed Mr. Lindsey seems altogether ready to rescue and warm the snow maiden.

[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]

For his final illustration, Waterman assembled all of the story's characters, placing them at the entrance to the Lindsey home (figure 6). The children warn him to leave her outside, their mother stands positioned to retard her husband's insistent move towards warmth and identification, and the poor snow maiden, drooping and downcast in expression, seems to sense her untimely end. …