Richard Floethe’s Summer Holiday

Summer Holiday by Richard Floethe is a story told in twenty-eight images. The story begins with an artist standing in his studio, staring out the window … and as the title suggests, he soon drives out to a cabin on the beach and takes a holiday.  He suns on the beach, goes sailing, hikes around the dunes … and meets a woman. With just a few masterful strokes and a limited palette of pink and blue wash on brown lithographic line work, each image suggests volumes of emotion and dramatic possibility. The boy-meets-girl story outline is as simple as can be, and yet, like the great wordless novels of Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward, its openness invites the reader into the experience and allows for endless extrapolations. The beachy setting brings to mind any number of coastal towns in or around New England, but is most reminiscent of Provincetown, Massachusetts, a town on the outer tip of Cape Cod famous for its artist’s colony.

This book was hand printed and colored by the artist in an edition of 150 copies. Richard Floethe printed a small number of other books himself (The Star, The Man From Everywhere, Ten Fables by Aesop, John Peel and Bacon in the Smokehouse), but Summer Holiday is unique in that it is a wordless graphic narrative. There are a few other books illustrated by Floethe in special collections, including a gorgeous Limited Editions Club edition of Pinocchio (RISD Special NC 975.5 .F56 P5 1937).

Richard Floethe studied with Klee and Kandinsky at the Bauhaus, taught at Cooper Union and the Ringling  School of Art, and was a renowned graphic artist and book illustrator. Over the course of his career he illustrated close to one hundred books, many of them written by his wife, Louise Lee Floethe. Between 1936 and 1939 he ran the New York City poster division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project (FAP). In 1939, when Summer Holiday was published, Richard Floethe was at the end of his tenure as art director and administrator of the poster division. The WPA/FAP employed thousands of out of work artists during the Great Depression, and from an essay about his WPA work, Floethe is often quoted as saying, “the Government unwittingly launched a movement to improve the commercial poster and raise it to a true art form”. It seems that Richard Floethe himself played a very key role in elevating the status of the American poster, as he was known to have encouraged creative expression and experimentation in the artists who worked with him.

Summer Holiday may be viewed online in a short film created by Richard Floethe’s son, Ronald Floethe here. The website is maintained by family members includes an extensive portfolio of Floethe’s work, spanning the length of his career from the 1920’s to 1980’s. My thanks to Ronald Floethe for graciously answering my questions!

As with all of our resources, Summer Holiday may be viewed at any time during our open hours – appointments recommended.

-posted by Ariel Bordeaux

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