Saturday, April 23, 2011

Camouflage Artist | Ben Kutcher

Ben Kutcher, book illustration

There was a note published in The Bookman, a New York-based literary journal, in 1919 about a Russian-Jewish book illustrator named Ben Kutcher (1895-1967) who served as a camouflage artist in the US Army during World War I (Vol 48 (1919), p. 381)—

Ben Kutcher, a young Russian artist whose illustrated edition of “A House of Pomegranates” has just been published, is now with the camouflage corps at Washington [DC]. 

The full title of the book referred to is Ben Kutcher’s Illustrated Edition of A House of Pomegranates: And the Story of the Nightingale and the Rose (Moffat, Yard and Company, 1918). It consists of earlier writings by Oscar Wilde, with a wonderful introduction by H.L. Mencken, who says of Wilde—

What he did with words was a rare and lovely thing. Himself well nigh tone-deaf, he got into them a sonorous and majestic music. Himself hideous, he fashioned them into complex and brilliant arabesques of beauty. Himself essentially shallow and even bogus, he gave them thunderous eloquence, an austere dignity almost Biblical, the appearance of high sincerity that goes with all satisfying art. In these stories, I believe, he is at his best. 

The full book, including Kutcher’s illustrations (reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley), is available online here.

A painter, designer and illustrator, Kutcher was born in Kiev c1895 and emigrated to the US in 1902. His papers, which date from 1926 through 1967, are in the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. According to an online summary, “The collection contains an autobiographical manuscript describing Kutcher's arrival in the US, the early years of his career, his experiences in the US Army, and his associations with artists and designers.” He designed books, bookplates and stage sets.

Other books illustrated by Kutcher include editions of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and The Aztec Treasure House for Boys, in which appeared the illustration on this page. A retrospective of his book illustrations, drawings and paintings was held in the year of his death, April 5 through May 18, 1967, at the Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum in Berkeley.