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Art HERstory: Rose O’Neill

In my life, I’ve taken six different art history classes and let me tell you, even art students, as excited as we are about art, yawn our brains out over some of the art stuff in these textbooks. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Warhol, Pollock, Rivera and Caravaggio but why are some of the most amazing ladies overlooked?! Even one of my favorite artists, the widely-popular Frida Kahlo, only got about a page in my last 400 page art history book! Note to the peeps that write these books: Don’t take the term “His-tory” too literally!

Now, I’ve recently come across some wonderful ladies that have been slept-on by these textbooks and felt the need to spread their good names and beautiful art…so that’s where I come in.

My name is Lady Lexx and I’ll be your Art HERstory teacher on this lady-run blog. So let’s get started with Rose O’Neill after the jump!

Remember those super-cute Kewpie dolls at the antique stores your Mom & Grandma would drag you to? Well, Rose O’Neill (Artist, Illustrator, Writer & Sculptor -1874-1944) is known as the mother of the Kewpie. These elf-like dolls actually started as illustrations that were carried by the foremost magazines of her time: Puck, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Delineator, Woman’s Home Companion, Truth, Brooklyn Life, Up To Date, and many more.

Rose was born on June 25, 1874. She won a children’s art contest at age thirteen, and began a weekly cartoon series for the Omaha World Herald. Her cartoons appeared in various national magazines. She drew her first group of clustered cupids, which she called ‘Kewpies’, in 1905. Their public impact was incredible for that time and she ended up drawing them for over a quarter of a century. During the first World War, she returned from Europe to the United States, where she became active in the campaign for women’s rights (All Together: “THANK YOU, ROSE!”).

O’Neill enjoyed reading classical literature as a child, including the Greek myths, from which Kewpie was obviously inspired by. In her later years, she chose a mode of dress similar to the flowing gowns of classical Greece.

While in Paris, she studied under the sculptor Rodin and the writer Kahil Gibran (one of my favorite writers). She was also known to enjoy the work of the Symbolist movement, Gustave Doré and William Blake.

Rose O’Neill died on 6 April 1944.

Although, Rose produced few children’s books she caught the imagination of America’s youth in a way that only some one of such “flamboyance and eccentricity” (I love that description of her!) could produce. Her amazing accomplishments as an illustrator cannot be ignored. Aside from her whimsical work, she left us with her personal philosophy: “Do good deeds in a funny way. The world needs to laugh or at least smile more than it does.”

Now, that was just a taste of who Rose O’Neill was and what I’ll be offering in future posts. Check out the links below for a lot more on Ms. O’Neill.

The Official Site of Rose O’Neill

Info & Images: ortakales.com & thelibrary.springfield.missouri.org

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3 Responses to “Art HERstory: Rose O’Neill”

  1. LR says:

    You are not the only one amazed and frustrated that Rose and many other Women
    artist, poets, writers,etc have been excluded from the list of important contributors to the arts. If a child today is asked to a report on an important women they are hard pressed to find many. I am on a journey to uncover and shout about the half of our population that have been excluded by historians. Even women historians think that Rose was just a doll maker. There will be some new soon that will, I hope, start to change this perception.


  2. Thank you for your admiration of Rose O’Neill!!! We agree that she has gone unappreciated for decades and it is our hope that a new generation of admirers will appreciate her “Sweet Monster” drawings as well as her illustration art.

  3. ladylexx ladylexx says:

    Hi Martha!

    Thank you so much for your comment! It’s an absolute honor to have such a dedicated admirer of Rose O’Neill drop by our site.

    The roseoneill.org site is great! I’ll make sure to link that site as well.

    Thanks again!



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