Strange Fruit and Patriotic Flowers

E. McKnight Kauffer's Illustrated South

"Three Tulips," advertisement for American Silk Mills Inc., March 21, 1943, offset lithograph on newsprint. Copyright © Simon Rendall and Smithsonian Institution. Permission of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum / Art Resource, NY.

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Strange Fruit and Patriotic Flowers

E. McKnight Kauffer's Illustrated South

by Mary A. Knighton
Southern Cultures, Vol. 25, No. 4: Here/Away

“That it has taken until now for anyone to see the black faces in Kauffer’s cover perhaps attests to just how ideologically blinding certain social and political forces have been when coupled with the formidable industry built around Faulkner’s celebrity.”

In January 1941, literati tastemaker Carl van Vechten wrote in mock reproach to Gertrude Stein in Paris—whom he addressed as “Baby Woojums”—chastising her and her partner Alice B. Toklas for their absence when simply everyone else who mattered was there in Manhattan. To further pique the envy of author and art aficionado Stein, he noted his upcoming dinner with Random House publisher Bennett Cerf and artist E. McKnight Kauffer that very night. Such epistolary fragments remind us that Kauffer was, like so many modernists of the first half of the twentieth century, a transatlantic figure immediately recognizable to those who moved in serious artistic and literary circles. Unlike his close friend T. S. Eliot, who became British, Kauffer retained an exilic American citizenship abroad despite more than two decades of residence in the UK. His once prodigious reputation in posters, graphic art, and book design both at home and abroad has been largely forgotten. A recent special exhibit on posters at the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York City, however, has brought Kauffer renewed attention, and his artwork for book jackets too has gained a recent critical foothold.