This is a profusely illustrated autobiography of a commercial artist published in 1947. It’s not a book I would have chosen myself, it was a gift, but I’m glad I read it. It’s full of illustrations, though the cover is the only full-color one.
From the endpapers on, there are groups of sepia-tone sketches and watercolors from the author’s world travels over many years, beginning in World War One.
There are also many black and white drawings in pencil or pen/brush and ink throughout. This may give the impression that the book is mainly art, but far from it. It’s 430 pages of text, full of details and incidents, and it took a long time to read. I confess to skimming some sections where the details became tedious, but mostly the book was fascinating.
Baldridge, born in 1889, grew up in poverty with a traveling single mother full of enterprise, who found work in many cities across America, and later became a traveling salesperson, and a hotel operator. At times her son Roy was farmed out to families when she was on the road, but his talent for art was something they both recognized, and by age 10 he was in Chicago, the youngest-ever student in Frank Holme’s Chicago School of Illustration. Holme became a father figure to young Roy, who studied there under Frank and J. C. Leyendecker and Frederic Goudy as well as Holme. The idea was to become a newspaper sketch artist, but that career was already being replaced by photography. Roy went to college on a scholarship and enjoyed it, and then was out in the world trying to find a living doing art.
World War One took him to Europe, where he eventually became the main artist at the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes, working alongside Harold Ross, later founder of The New Yorker, and writer Alexander Woolcott. Roy met writer Caroline Singer during the war, and they became life-partners in 1920, while Baldridge worked in Manhattan for New York magazines. Soon they were producing illustrated books together, and that launched them on a career of world travel, he sketching and she writing, that took them to China (twice), Africa, Japan, Korea, India, and the Middle East. Their books were popular and sold well, with this autobiography capping that part of their lives. They were able to retire to New Mexico in 1951, where they lived the rest of their lives. Baldridge died in 1977 at age 88.
This book took me places I haven’t been, and showed me lives of people, both poor and rich, in parts of the world I know little about that helped me understand those places better. The art is appealing, and it’s a corking good adventure at times. Recommended.