Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gibson Girls and Library Treasures

Any library that has been around long enough will house some random treasures, usually donated items that some good-natured librarian could neither refuse nor discard. One such example from our library is a signed limited edition of "The Education of Mr. Pipp," a series of illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson, published in New York by R. H. Russell in 1899.

Gibson (1867-1944) became a very wealthy man from the many satirical sketches of high society that he created over a 20-year period starting the mid-1890s, and the Mr. Pipp series depicts a selection of events in the life of a young man, as he makes the transition from bachelorhood to well-trained husband. Augustus Thomas created a stage play based on the sketches in 1905, and a silent film version was produced in 1914.
Of course, the primary subject of the sketches was not Mr. Pipp, but rather the woman he married. The so-called Gibson Girl was the de facto model of the ideal American woman - beautiful, well-shaped, well-dressed, independent, spirited, and definitely in charge.

The early models for the Gibson Girl included Gibson's wife Irene Langhorne, and the Belgian-American stage actress Camille Clifford, famous for her hourglass figure and big hair. In the early 1900s, the popular artists' model Evelyn Nesbit came to dominate the image. With the advent of the First World War, the Gibson Girl faded in popularity, to be replaced by the new standard of American womanhood - the flapper.

Gibson's memory lives on through the cocktail that bears his name, reflecting his preference for gin martinis with a pickled onion garnish.