When it comes to 'lost art,' the hope is always the same. That somebody out there somewhere will come across something long forgotten in an attic that turns out to be missing gold. It can be a pipe dream wish, but sometimes - just sometimes - as if from the Land of Oz itself, a little magic makes that miracle happen.
Last week, I was contacted by a gentleman in Texas, who reached out about a drawing he had recently rediscovered. It had been in his family as long as he could remember, but always tucked away in a closet, along with the bits of paper, keys, and balls of string that tend to live in the bottom of drawers and that are carted house to house unexamined for generations.
He knew little about the drawing itself, other than he thought it was something his granddaughters might enjoy, as it seemed to have something to do with the story of THE WIZARD OF OZ.
Closer examination revealed that not only was the illustration, indeed, Oz related, it was one of W.W. Denslow's original pen and ink drawings for the first edition of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD IN OZ from 1900!
Originally drawn for Chapter 19, "Attacked by the Fighting Trees," the illustration depicting the Scarecrow clutched in a 'woodsy' catch was colored during the printing process, and appeared as a full color plate drawing opposite page 220.
Drawings by Denslow from THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ have scarcely been discovered in private hands, which makes this unexpected discovery a particularly exciting find.
When asked about the drawing's provenance, the gentleman has few details, other than the memory it had been something the family, which hailed from the West Virginia area, had held onto for decades under the folklore that it might be something 'important.' His mother had been married to a prominent photographer in the 1920s, and his father lived in New York City in the same era, but nothing to concretely tie the illustration to its legendary past.
Denslow's original artwork for THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ was among the lots offered in Chicago storage unit sales in the 1910s, after the artist failed to pay rent. A large collection of original pen and ink drawings for the book were later gifted to the New York Public Library in April, 1926 by noted book collector, Harry Goldsmith. A smaller cache of drawings turned up for sale at a Southern California bookseller in the 1960s, and in the decades since, scattered individual drawings have turned up at major auction houses. But as of 2021, only about one third of Denslow's total works for the classic book are confirmed to survive.
As for the future of this drawing rediscovered in Texas: now armed with the knowledge of its value and importance, the owner will, at last, gift it a proper framing (and a proper insurance policy). It will also remain in the family for future generations to discover and enjoy.
Hopefully, the uncovering will also inspire others to keep looking for long hidden treasures.
After all, as this gentleman told me, 'you never know what might turn up in a closet after 121 years!'
Brady Schwind is a writer, director, and Oz Enthusiast on a mission to definitively catalogue the existing original artwork from the famed "Famous Forty" Oz books.