Friday, July 1, 2011

The Land of Make Believe

In 1930 (or perhaps 1933), a startling notion was announced to the general public: many of the most beloved fairy tale characters inhabit the same world. We learned this from a colorful and wonderfully detailed poster by artist Jaro Hess called “The Land of Make Believe.”

Who knew Cinderella (whose rep was built on a shoe) and the Old Woman (who lived in a shoe) lived across the winding path from each other?

When I was young, a print of this hung in my house.

my mother and me, 1972 

It captivated me. I would study each character, choose which castle or house I would live in if I could, and trace the entire path with my finger.

Then I grew up.

And I stopped following that path.

Until 1995.

That year, I walked into a print store in New York City and rediscovered the Land of My Childhood. For some reason, I hadn’t yet realized that it was a print that others might also have had. Turns out this one was brought in for framing but the person never came back to pick it up. (Guess one of the witches pictured cast a forgetting spell.) The owner sold it to me for $60, half of what the framing cost. (That’s some more magic right there.)

Then I found out that my mom still had the copy of my youth. (Now my sister has it.)

The original version included a character labeled “The Wandering Jew.” Later printings sensitively recast him as “The Wanderer.” It’s hard to make out detail on the low-res version at top, but look to the bottom right: he’s the figure in a brown coat walking the path directly above the frolicking mermaids.

In those nascent days of the World Wide Web, I got nowhere searching for information on Jaro Hess. At the time, I worked for Abbeville Press, known for its books on fine art, so I also looked him up in a book I found in the office: a guide to 20th century artists. But I had no luck there, either.

It wasn’t till years later that the Internet developed deeply enough to spit out some information on Hess, but little if any that is authoritative. By one source, he was born in 1895 and died in 1981; by another, 1889 and 1979. [12/11/20 addendum: Turns out it is 1889 to 1977. Probably.]

Heres something a Google wont turn up (and even this is incomplete):

The owner of the company that got the license to sell the LOMB print e-mailed that article to me in 2004.

I bet I couldn’t find a fellow author who writes for young people who wouldn’t want this hanging over his or her desk.


Anonymous said...

I, too, loved this print growing up. It hung in my mother's room when she was a child, it hung in my room until we moved out of our house of 17 years, and now it hangs in my son's room. My 22 month old is just now learning all the characters and shrieks with delight when he finds each one (it hangs over his diaper changing table in order to keep him occupied during an otherwise challenging task). I hope that my kids/grandkids enjoy this wonderful print as much as we did!

-Darby (Marc's little sister)

J. L. Bell said...

My mother had this poster when she was growing up. I had one that was clearly inspired by it decades later called "As the saying goes…" A young reader could get lost exploring both.

For Books of Wonder, Dick Martin produced a view of Oz also clearly influenced by this artwork.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

J.L. - Interesting! Do you have an image of "As the saying goes..."? A quick Google did not yield it...

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

And the Books of Wonder piece is, appropriately, wonderful. Didn't know about that, though I should have!

wendyM said...

MTL!! Stumbled onto your post while googling the LOMB poster. Am somewhat obsessed with it after seeing it up in Maine. Wish I'd had it growing up, you're lucky! Thanks for sharing this story.
Wendy M

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Wendy! At that link you can order a print of it. What does "MTL" mean?

Zan said...

when I was a child, this hung over the dresser in the room that I shared with my sister. Every night, my dad would come in when we were ready for bed, and one of us would get to pick a character from the map. He would proceed to tell a tale completely unrelated to the classic fairy tale it represented. We would prompt for parts of the stories we liked, but Dad's tales came out unique in every retelling :-)

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Zan, such a lovely recollection. Thank you for sharing.

Fanny Flag said...

I was a new school teacher in 1950----second grade and have no idea of how or where I first saw The Land Of Make Believe, but knew I had to have it for my classroom. I ordered it and had it framed (yes as poor as we were) and my children loved it--hanging down low so they could see everything in it.

My teaching career came to a halt when I became pregnant, but A Land Of Make Believe went in our daughters room and later her sisters. Now it is in a guest room when grandchildren come to visit the first daughter. I ordered one several years ago to have for future babies in this family.

A wonderful, wonderful picture of childhood memories for a lot of children.

Mary said...

It hung in my pediatricians office when I was little. I too used to trace the paths. A few years ago I saw a similar picture in an oz exhibit. It obsessed me and I searched many combinations of words since I couldn't remember the title. Once I found it, I put out a Google alert of the title, found a copy at an online auction, and bought it. It's mint condition and gorgeous. I might see if a museum wants it, someone who will take care of it.

KatieCorr said...

I found this at a thrift store today, buried under a pile of used wallpaper scraps. I'd never seen or heard of it before, but I knew it was special and fell in love with it right away. I bought it for $1.99. It's one of the prints from the late 50s. I can't wait to have it framed and hung up for all my nieces and nephews to explore. Thank you for sharing your stories. It makes the picture even more magical.

Jaro Hess: Land of Make Believe said...

I own a beautifully framed 1930's print I would like to sell.
Contact me if you are interested.