Monday, June 8, 2009

Rose Cecil O'Neill and her Kewpies


Sometime during the night they had entered her room as she slept and had awakened her by bouncing on her feathery pillow. Now she watched them in amazement as they danced around the bedroom, performing amazing acrobatics and hilarious stunts. She still was not certain who (or what) they were. These tiny babies with sprouting blue wings just above the shoulders were sent, it seemed, just for her amusement.









They had the thinnest wisps of hair that stood straight out--like that of a baby who had been sleeping for some time. Their tiny starfish hands reached out teasing and amusing her. Being so plump with their protruding tummies they looked like mischievous children running and hopping and falling down. Their eyes were big laughing ones, making her love them and long to hold them. As if he knew her wishes, one of these irresistible children jumped onto her hand and looked Lovingly into her own large eyes. This surprised her and she simply stared at the little creature for several minutes.




Then she discovered something that was even more astonishing--when the baby sat down in her hand, she found that he had a cold bottom. These weren't real babies or they would be warm all over--these were some kind of fairy or elf. As she again watched them playing and frolicking on her bed and about the room, she knew what they were. They were Kewpies.






A fascinating lady, a fascinating collectible. Rose Cecil O'Neill, 1875-1944, the inventor of Kewpie had a dream, this is what she envisioned for the world, carefree laughter with exuberance, innocence. Kewpie (the illustration) is 100 years old this year.
We all know Kewpie, right? Kewpie first made an appearance in Ladies Home journal in 1909,it was the brainchild of a female illustrator, I say brainchild because in Rose O'Neill's time, the illustrators were male.


Rose was just 14 when she entered her work in a contest and won, the judges couldn't believe the drawings came from such a young artist, her father had specially sharpened pencils and paper always laying around the house. At the age of 19 Rose moved to New York and became a illustrator for Puck magazine, she sent money home to her family and was the main provider. Attending a prestigious school and studying sculpturing under Auguste Rodin (the thinker and another one of my post), Rose O'Neill married and divorced philander, she considered him a gambling womanizer. Shortly thereafter she returned to the family homestead and found she was getting mail from a secret admirer, it was the editor of Puck, they were married and after five years they separated. It is said Rose became lonely often referring the her former husband as the beloved. Kewpie was born.

A woman with a flowing graceful style, Rose O'Neill didn't shy away from praising women and men alike for the endearing things they did. You could find her dressed in floor length, red or maroon colored robes, that had loose sleeves because this attire allowed her to work freely. Rose also wore sandal with polished toenails which was considered daring and unacceptable in her time, she would greet friends, people, and family by placing her cheek to theirs and calling it a "Kewpie kiss". Considered one of the beautiful women, men often mistook her effervescent personality.



Rose O'Neill recognized commercial value, she licensed in countless forms.Here is the patent for the Kewpie doll.She was institutional in taking paper dolls to a new level, in 1912 Kewpie Cutouts were published in Woman's Home Companion, those Kewpie paper dolls were two sided for the first time in a magazine's history.In 1913 German porcelain manufacturers began making bisque Kewpie dolls in 3 different sizes, Rose and her sister Calista (her manager, business partner) made a visit to many factories and at one point the smaller 6 inch Kewpie was being made with poor quality materials. Rose insisted they be made with finer quality because they were the doll the poor children would buy. Finer 6'' dolls began selling on the market.

Rose had a generous pocket, if she heard a child needed something she didn't hesitate to purchase it for them.The classic Kewpie had little air quality wings on their backs. Shortly after Rose went to New York her family purchase land in the Ozark mountains, southwest Missouri, her father had tired of the city life. Together with a son , Mr O'Neill began building what Rose named, "Bonniebrook." She also referred to the place as the "The Tangles" as the isolation of the thick forest reminded her of such. Bonniebrook began as two log cabins with a breezeway between them. One cabin for dining and the other for sleeping, it was constructed in 3 phases, floor planned by Mrs. O'Neill. Rose had the third floor as her studio, it had a daybed for Rose to nap. It is said Rose worked day and night and this was where she did her best work. Bonniebrook was where Rose retired after her mother died, she was said to be affected deeply by her passing.

Bonniebrook burned after Rose passed away, it was a faulty heater her brother was using. No one was hurt as he was the only one living in the home at the time. Bonniebrook was reconstructed in 1977 by the Historical Society and they facilitate tours today.During the almost 30 years Kewpie was marketed Rose O'Neill made 1.5 million dollars, men, women and children wanted a Kewpie. It still maintains a popularity today.

By 1937 Rose had lost her fortune do to her extravagant nature and by the time the depression came, Rose found illustrations replaced by photography, she died in 1944, at the age of 69, she was living with her nephew. He was named beneficiary of her estate and removed all of her work from the home before it burned.

Kewpie has many occupations and personality roles. C&G Design.

10 comments:

tina said...

I never knew the history of Kewpies. But they are everywhere-to this day. I can find them at flea markets regularly. Very interesting!

Kathleen said...

Thank you Dawn for a most interesting lesson in the Kewpie Doll. I did not know any of this. Another reason to blog...to be educated and empowered. Do you own any Kewpies? Have a terrific Monday! The rain is coming.....Hugs, Kathleen

Skeeter said...

This is most interesting how the Kewpie came about! We had what I thought to be a kewpie but it had hair and more a troll looking thing with big nose. Do you recall them and what their name was? Still see them today also...

Jean said...

Wow, I had no idea they were that old. They run a close second to the Raggedy's to me as I always liked them. The hisory lesson in them and the inventor was very interesting. A woman ahead of her times....I like that.

lola said...

I have seen the Kewpies & think them lovely. I didn't know of their history. Thanks Dawn for the informative post.

A Joyful Chaos said...

Thanks for this wonderful post1 i enjoyed learning the history of Kewpies very much.

Protector of Vintage said...

Very interesting! I didn't know much at all about kewpie dolls before reading your post!! Have a nice day~

Bunny said...

Oh my goodness I remember Kewpies too but never knew the history. I loved that doll. Well I loved all my dolls had so many of them. Wish I had a couple of them still.

Dawn said...

Hi guys, I have a vinyl kewpie, I don't think it's a O'Neill though.
Skeeter, I can envision the figurine your talking about but the name escapes me! Urgh! It was/is a cute little doll.

Debbie said...

I knew about Rose and the kewpies but never knew the complete history the way you have told it here! Nice job! I have come across some kewpies in my antique/yard sale travels and they are adorable. I was told the only real ones have wings. There are many fake. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!