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Poster collection a rare glimpse into a publishing dynasty

Published 11:01 am, Sunday, April 7, 2013

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  • Anda and John Hutchins of New Canaan have collected more than 40 vintage posters from the Charles Scribner Sons publishing house that are the focus of a new exhibition at the New Canaan Library. Anda Hutchins' ancestors ran the publishing giant. Photo: Contributed
    Anda and John Hutchins of New Canaan have collected more than 40 vintage posters from the Charles Scribner Sons publishing house that are the focus of a new exhibition at the New Canaan Library. Anda Hutchins' ancestors ran the publishing giant. Photo: Contributed

 

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The range of enchanting turn-of-the-century artwork is engaging enough, but to know these posters are from the private collection of family members from this publishing dynasty makes it all the more intriguing.

On Monday, April 1, the New Canaan Library opened a five-week exhibit of vintage magazine posters that once advertised in Scribner's Monthly and Scribner's Magazine -- top publications of their day featuring the best writers and most sought-after illustrators. "Scribner's and the Golden Age of the American Poster" shares a privileged close-up glimpse of these exquisite advertisements, thanks to the granddaughter of Charles Scribner himself.

"My mother was Julia Scribner and her brother was Charles Scribner Jr., and her father was Charles Scribner," explained Anda Hutchins of New Canaan.

Hutchins' great-grandfather -- the first Charles Scribner -- founded in 1846 what would become the premier publishing house of the early 20th century, later to be run by his three sons. Among its most noteworthy authors were Henry James and Edith Wharton.

Former New Canaan resident Maxwell Perkins became an editor there in 1910 and was ultimately responsible for bringing F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, among others, to the house, and for editing their greatest works.

"I didn't really have too much awareness of it all," said Hutchins, whose mother died when she was very young. In fact, she said, her family was almost reticent about discussing the world-famous authors with whom they worked.

"It wasn't the kind of celebrity culture it is today," Hutchins said. "They didn't talk about that stuff."

She remembered getting the chance to read her grandfather's extensive correspondence with Hemingway. "They were very close," she said. "I remember reading through it once."

But following the death of her grandfather, her grandmother merely shipped it all off to Princeton University for its archives.

She recalled her uncle as "intellectual," having a "very interesting sense of humor," and loving golf.

"My uncle ran the business. He was the head of the publishing firm," she said, "(but) he was probably not the most hard-core business person."

In fact, Scribner's was known for valuing worthwhile literature over commercial potential.

"They didn't want blockbusters," said Anda's husband, John Hutchins. "They wanted books that became literature and were worthy ... They have some authors who could have been lucrative, but wouldn't have been worthy."

It wasn't until her early 20s that Anda even began to consider the tremendous impact her family had on the literary world. And it was merely by chance that she and her husband first encountered an example of a poster advertisement for one of the magazines her family ran from 1870 to 1939.

"It's our understanding that these would be printed and distributed so people could see what was coming up in the next months," John said.

The artwork on these posters was done by some of the best illustrators of the time, including N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and Charles Dana Gibson.

Slowly, the couple began to collect the posters and now boasts a collection of more than 40, most of which are on display in the H. Pelham Curtis Gallery at the library through May 5.

"We're not sure there is anybody around that has a private collection as large as this," John said.

"When Anda suggested the New Canaan Library's Curtis Gallery as a venue to share their collection of Scribner posters with the community, we enthusiastically agreed," said Susie Salomon, who is the chairman of the library's art committee.

"Now, after more than a year of preparation, a handsome show has been installed and a catalogue published," she said. "With gratitude to John and Anda for their generosity, we welcome the community to delight in this nostalgic collection."

John added, "Many of the artists here are some of the finest artists of their day. They're very graphic and pleasing."

Along with their obvious love of the subject matter, Anda and John Hutchins share a keen knowledge on many details of the work itself.

"You learn as you acquire," John said.

An opening reception for the exhibition takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 7.

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.