12 Aug 2013

Ann & Andy


One day in 1915, as the story goes, Johnny Gruelle’s daughter Marcella brought him an old rag doll. He drew a face on the worn fabric and called the doll Raggedy Ann. Gruelle, a cartoonist and illustrator, wrote a children’s book about Raggedy Ann in 1918. Publisher P. F. Volland arranged to sell Raggedy Ann dolls along with the books, and the tie-in between Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann Stories and the dolls proved a marketing hit. In 1920, Gruelle introduced the Raggedy Andy Stories. In them, when humans 
weren’t looking, Raggedy Ann and Andy came to life and embarked on many adventures. Gruelle averaged one new book each year for twenty years. The books and dolls have remained popular for the past century. Raggedy Ann entered the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2002. Her brother Raggedy Andy joined her in 2007. The dolls are reunited in this place of honor.
Raggedy Ann, and her equally spirited rag brother, Andy are the world's best-known and most adored rag dolls. At the hand of their creator, cartoonist-illustrator-author Johnny Gruelle, the Raggedys weren't ever simply dolls. They were literary characters as well, possessing attributes and outlooks reflecting trustworthiness, kindness, and spunk. Because Gruelle was a natural born storyteller, it followed that his dolls would star in whimsical, fanciful tales, based on fantasy and make believe. 
Because of this, Johnny Gruelle's little rag dolls have also found themselves at the center of several legend cycles -- groups of stories that, while containing kernels of truth, are more myth than they are history. What makes this even more intriguing is that fact that Johnny Gruelle, either unwittingly or with the great sense of humor he was known for, initiated many of these legends, a number of which are continuously repeated as the factual history of Raggedy Ann and Andy. One of the distinguishing features of a 
legend is that, unlike an out-and-out fairy tale, it is factual-sounding enough to be believable. This especially applies to the Raggedy legends. In the case of Raggedy Ann and Andy, the legends are as important as factual history in telling their story. Because the Raggedys sprang directly from the rich and embellished world of storytelling -- a world of frolicking fairies; come-alive dolls and talking forest critters -- it makes great sense to not discount legends simply because they are folklore, and therefore, "unprovable." While legends can frustrate the conscientious historian in search of hard, provable facts and figures, they can tell us different things than facts, and they possess powers that historical data do not. Legends have the power of revealing ethics and values; preferences and motives; emotions and reactions. And, in the case of the 
Raggedys, legends have the singular ability to showcase the true personalities of these fanciful dolls, as well as lending insight into the persona of their creator, Johnny Gruelle. Johnny Gruelle was born in Arcola, Illinois in 1880, the son of landscape and portrait artist Richard (R.B.) Gruelle. R.B. eventually moved his young family to Indianapolis. There, mixing with his parents' artistic and literary friends (among them, the poet James Whitcomb Riley) young Johnny developed a strong love of region, and a penchant for the fine art of storytelling. By the time Gruelle reached adulthood, he had cast his lot as a political cartoonist, turning out as many as three cartoons as day for several midwestern newspapers. In 1910, he acted on his aspirations to become a freelance illustrator, moving to the East Coast, where he accepted a full-time position 
with The New York Herald (turning out weekly pages of his Sunday comic, "Mr. Twee Deedle") as well as several book illustrating commissions. This was during a time in American history when traditional values were being challenged by progress and social change. As a counter-reaction, many were turning back to more nostalgic diversions. Homemade and hand-crafted objects were popular fare; fairy tales, magic shows, and psychic phenomena became all the rage. All of this fit with what Gruelle was already creating, and set the stage perfectly for the folksy, whimsical doll he designed and patented in 1915 .

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