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More than Words - The Artful Letter

Liza Kerwin, curator of manuscripts at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, brings us More Than Words, her second release from Princeton Architectural Press. More Than Words is a fascinating collection of over 90 illustrated letters by esteemed artists including Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer, Man Ray, Frida Kahlo, Alexander Calder, Antoine de Sainte-Exupery and Andy Warhol.

When words were not enough, these artists and illustrators set the pen aside and turned paper into canvas in order to more deeply convey a message that required more than words. This volume contains letters to clients and confidants, to lovers and friends, filled with inky portraits and pencil sketches, watercolor landscapes, caricatures and cartoons. Taken together, the images and words provide extraordinary insight into these letter writers who pen in hand, still reached for the instruments that most thoroughly and completely transcribed their feelings, conveyed their humor or brought to life the street scene outside a bedroom window.

Artist Paul Bransom, in a 1905 letter to his sweetheart, actress Grace Bond who is away in Boston rehearsing a play, uses an illustration to amplify the intensity of his sadness in her absence. His beautiful watercolor depicts a man, head in his hands, staring at a photograph atop the bedroom bureau. The words beneath the drawing read, "In my mind's [sic] eye I can see Hollis Street Theater & the stage door so plainly. Oh! I wish I were there with you." A simple drawing of a boy adorns a note written by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery to his friend, painter Hedda Sterne. In the note he mentions the completion of his masterpiece, The Little Prince. Ilustrator Rutherford Boyd, in a letter written to his fiancee in June of 1905, created an intricate drawing in pen and ink depicting the view of East 23rd Street from his window on the top floor. Frida Kahlo, signed a letter written in October of 1940, with three red lipstick kisses.

The Wall Street Journal commented that, "Today, when illustrating a communication is likely to mean adding a smiley-face emoticon to an instant message, More Than Words arrives like a letter from a long-lost friend."

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