City of Mummies, J. Allen St. John (1875-1957), 1941, gouache on paper
As a young man I was fortunate enough to grow up with great art in my bedroom. My father, Erle Korshak, was the publisher of a pioneering science fiction book company, Shasta Publishers. Shasta ushered in the transition of important science fiction literature from magazines printed on cheap pulp paper to hardcover, library-quality books. Much of that art lived with us at our house and at the company office in Chicago.
In particular, the J. Allen St. John illustration for the 1941 Amazing Stories magazine cover of John Carter battling the Dead in "The City of Mummies" lured me into a fantastic world that I never knew existed. The soft focus of the Martian city in the background had a dreamlike quality, as did the canals of Mars, the scorching red ground, the four-armed green Martian, the eight-legged Martian thoat, and John Carter leaping gravity-less in the Martian atmosphere. I read and enjoyed the Edgar Rice Burroughs story behind the illustration but for me, the illustration itself gave me a sense of wonder I had never previously experienced.
So began a lifelong love affair with illustration art. In the process, I learned that fantasy art was one subset of the entire field of illustration. Some illustrators were self-taught, others were classically trained. Some illustrators' works were iconic and defined a whole generation's visualization of certain authors' work and literary characters. I also learned that many scholars in the field of art during the 20th century made a distinction between what they considered fine art versus illustration.
Today a reassessment has been taking place among art historians and scholars. Many now consider some illustrators, like Norman Rockwell, Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish and N. C. Wyeth, as fine artists as well as illustrators. If you look at many of the works in this collection, I think you will see that such distinctions are arbitrary.
Any collection is an intellectual exercise in organizing tangible items into a set. It is a manifestation of the collector's vision of the field. Of course, as in life, there are many visions and no one vision is necessarily better than another. This collection is a vision of the fantastic. It is one of great illustrators, as well as illustrations that had a great influence on imaginative literature. We hope that you will, as much as we have, learn not only about a whole new field but also a lot about yourself.