The Definitive Dwiggins no. 13—Duo-Art
W.A. Dwiggins did a small number of jobs for music companies between 1917 and 1924. They were done via printing companies in Philadelphia (Franklin Printing) and Cleveland (The Caxton Company). Trying to find examples of the work has been extremely difficult as the references I have are partial and the material clearly ephemeral. But this morning I hit the jackpot. I found two 8-page booklets for the Duo-Art online that Dwiggins worked on: The World’s Supreme Artists and What Possession of the Duo-Art Means. Both are part of The Denis Condon Collection which is devoted to saving items related to reproducing (player) pianos.
Neither item is dated and both are from Australian subsidiaries of The Aeolian Company which manufactured the Duo-Art reproducing piano. Based on Dwiggins’ account books I believe these were printed in either 1923 or 1924 and that they were originally commissioned by The Caxton Company. Imperfect copies of both (but with imprints of American piano dealers in Cleveland and Des Moines, Iowa) are in the 2001 Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library.
The World’s Supreme Artists has cover, title page and opening page designs by Dwiggins. Only the cover is signed. There are also portraits of 24 leading pianists and composers (e.g. Arthur Rubenstein and Serfe Profofiev) of the time inside which I doubt are his work since the hatching technique does not match other work of his. The title page has a line-art vignette at the top of a seated satyr playing a pan pipe accompanied by two children, one on the pan-pipe and one with cymbals. The typography on the page does not match that of the cover and may have been done by the Australian printer rather than by The Caxton Company. The opening page has a vignette of two reed instruments tied together with a ribbon. All three of these Dwiggins illustrations, both in content and in style, hark back to the conservative sheet music work he did for G. Schirmer (via D.B. Updike and The Merrymount Press) between 1907 and 1912. They do not reflect the changes in his art that had begun to occur in the early 1920s.
In contrast, What Possession of the Duo-Art Means does show a more interesting side of Dwiggins as an illustrator/ornamentalist, though not yet in his Art Deco stencil phase. Dwiggins definitely did the cover and two interior illustrations of performers. Only the cover is signed. The booklet also includes three black-and-white wash illustrations of the reproducing piano in people’s homes which are not his.
The cover is fascinating. Its multiple parts are a theme that seemed to have perpetually occupied Dwiggins. It can be found as early as 1902 in a booklet he worked on for The Alverado Hotel and as late as 1948 when he designed Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World of Lemuel Gulliver for The Peter Pauper Press. The procession at the top is one of many such illustrations he did for clients over the years, including Ginn & Co. and Strathmore Paper Company. And the dancing figures below are not only similar to those in The World’s Supreme Artists but in sheet music Dwiggins designed and some early greeting cards done for Alfred Bartlett. The ornamentation is distinctly new, in between the work he used to do for Updike and the new geometric style he was evolving in the 1920s.
The two interior illustrations are part of Dwiggins’ continued fascination with the Far East—at least as filtered through European artists. They reflect his deep debt to Jean-Baptiste Pillement (1728–1808). A bonus discovery is that the cover design and the illustration on the right match previously unidentified pen-and-ink drawings by Dwiggins that I saw last year at Yale University. This discovery makes me suspect that two other unidentified Dwiggins pen-and-ink drawings at Yale may also have been done for reproducing piano company booklets. So there is still much to be found.