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A major exhibit of the papers of noted American artist and illustrator Howard Chandler Christy will be on display at Lafayette College’s Skillman Library from September through December.

The exhibit, entitled “Illustrating the American Ideal, 1898-1950,” will be open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the library’s special collections reading room. An opening reception will be held at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, with the distinguished American portrait painter Everett Raymond Kinstler, who knew Christy, giving a keynote talk. Kinstler was the recipient of the John Singer Sargent Award from the American Society of Portrait Painters in 1997.

Also on hand will be author Helen F. Copley, whose recent book The Christy Quest provides a window on the artist’s life and work. Copies of the book will be available at the reception.

Skillman Library recently became the repository of a significant group of Christy’s papers given by Jane and Joe Conneen and Larry Miley in memory of Mimi Conneen Miley. The exhibit will feature highlights of this collection.

“The exhibit will focus primarily on Christy’s career as an illustrator, beginning with his earliest works, including some sketches on loan, of the Spanish American War,” says Diane Windham Shaw, Lafayette’s special collections librarian and College archivist. “It will also feature examples of World War I posters he did for the Navy; illustrations for magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Collier’s Weekly, and McClure’s Magazine; and examples of his Christy Girl illustrations.”

Christy gained fame with his widely published combat sketches of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. He later became known for his “Christy Girl” and his recruitment posters for the Navy.

Born in Ohio in 1873, Christy moved to New York City in the 1890s to study art, where he enrolled in the Art Students League. At the school, he had the rare opportunity to be privately instructed by William Merritt Chase when the distinguished artist recognized Christy’s skills.

Christy soon directed his interest to illustrations, selling his work to magazines such as Leslie’s Weekly, Life and Harper’s. In 1898, during the Spanish American War, he was commissioned by Harper’s, Scribner’s and Leslie’s Weekly to go to Cuba, where he traveled with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. His drawings of the Rough Riders and other combat sketches, including those of the Battle of Santiago, were widely published.

He returned to New York a prominent illustrator, but stereotyped as a military artist. To dispel that impression, he began sketching beautiful young women and quickly developed his signature image, the Christy Girl. Described as “saucy but elegant, independent but sweet,” the Christy girl became hugely popular and was the subject of a series of books published by Christy between 1900 and 1912.

During World War I, Christy gained further fame with his series of patriotic posters, particularly the Navy recruitment poster “Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man,” featuring his wife, Nancy Palmer, as the model.

In 1921, the artist gave up illustration for portrait painting, completing 30 portraits in the first year alone and soon becoming the most fashionable portrait painter of his day, with a list of subjects that included Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Amelia Earhart, Benito Mussolini, and the Prince of Wales.

His most famous work, “The Signing of the Constitution,” was completed in 1940 and hangs above the east grand stairway in the U.S. Capitol. Christy continued to paint until his death in 1952.

The Christy papers include letters, many with poetry and sketches, from Christy to his wife, legal and financial documents, and photographs of Christy at work and with his family. There are letters from Calvin and Grace Coolidge, Jimmy Doolittle, J. Edgar Hoover, Harry Houdini, Fiorello LaGuardia, Douglas MacArthur, Eddie Rickenbacker, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harry S Truman.

The collection contains copies of stories illustrated by Christy, magazine and program covers, posters, advertisements, and other appearances of Christy drawings. Also included are early sketch books and other original artwork by the artist.

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