The first Oz book,The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was illustrated by W.W. Denslow. Four years later, Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz was published, but because of a falling out between Denslow and Baum, up-and-coming John R. Neill was hired as illustrator instead, and proceeded to hit it not just out of the park, but into the bay.
Neill’s wild and wonderful illustrations cemented his place as Royal Illustrator of Oz, and he went on to illustrate at least forty Oz books, including three of his own, in both black and white and color, with art that sends my brain whack in the best ways ever. Despite this success, Neill’s work is underestimated and not widely known.Neill introduced an updated, older Dorothy, and a sense of the magical bizarre that suits the material better—in my mind—than Denslow’s plainer, more workaday imagery.
My recent illness has lead me down some odd literary paths lately, including a rereading of old Oz books. Along with simply loving and enjoying the illustrations as much as I always do, I found some inspiration for the tragically grease-stained oxalis dye.
Despite its stains, it really is a beautiful piece of cloth. Its layered yellow dip-dye reminds me of a sandstorm; it inspires a lot of drooling, and makes me feel deep textile lust.
I have always been drawn to the way John R. Neill depicts clouds, wind, and movement. Somehow, I always stop at those particular windy illustrations, and ponder Neill’s strange curves that so mysteriously convey the wildness of weather.
I was in just the right mood when I came across this particular, very familiar depiction of dust and sand and wind, a picture I have been looking at, over and over, for over forty years:
I got out some blue chalk, and tried to capture the movement of the dust and wind right onto my oxalis dye.
And then I started stitching. Yikes!