Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Signature of J.B. Doncyson, artist

Long, long ago, a man named J.B. Doncyson of Topeka, Kansas, signed his name, in elaborate fashion, inside this copy of 1898's Caleb West: Master Diver1, by Francis Hopkinson Smith, who also, it so happens, built the foundation of the Statue of Liberty. The book, published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, features illustrations by Malcolm Fraser and Arthur I. Keller.

Perhaps those illustrations inspired the one-time owner of this volume.

It will come as no surprise that Doncyson had a fancy, artistic signature after you read this newspaper article about him that appeared in the October 30, 1915, issue of The Topeka State Journal:


Topeka Citizen Who Spends
Much Time in Art Work

Began to Make Drawings When
a School Boy.


Does the Illustrating for the
Masonic Lodges.

Has Begun to Receive Orders
From the East.

A Topeka man, an amateur, is so good an artist that he hardly has time to do anything else but make drawings. J.B. Doncyson, 909 West Tenth street, of the Scottish Rite temple, has been doing art work for the past ten years and now makes all the drawings used by the Masonic orders and other lodges of Topeka, to say nothing of a large amount of work done for his friends.

He started drawing while a boy in Topeka schools, back in the eighties. His teacher cuffed his ears several times for marking up his books with sketches but the habit was not broken and he became a prominent high school artist later. In 1893 his trip to the Chicago world's fair revealed to his youthful eyes some of the most priceless paintings in the world and young Doncyson attributes much of his later ability to viewing the masterpieces of Europe. He never has taken drawing lessons and depends for the correctness of his technique, perspective and proportion with his eye upon judgment alone.

"A man can't do good work and do it fast — that is outside of cartoon work," he said today at the Scottish Rite temple. "I work an average of twelve to fourteen hours on a picture that amounts to anything, but can dash off a comic sketch in half an hour. As brevity is the soul of wit, too many lines will ruin a funny picture."

His Cartoon Work.

He formerly did cartoon work for the State Journal, the Santa Fe, and two or three other Topeka concerns. The companies hired an amateur because he was doing as good as if not better work than professional artists in Kansas City.

In addition to his drawing, which takes nearly all his time, Mr. Doncyson is a secretary in the Scottish Rite temple. That is a man's job also as it necessitates taking care of $78,000 worth of costumes, feeding four or five hundred people every week or so at a banquet, and handling the immense amount of mail that comes in and goes out on regular business.

"We have so much mail that we have to use as complicated system of mailing as the Saturday Evening Post does," said Mr. Doncyson.

The reunion of the Masons in November has caused a great amount of publicity matter to be sent out. Mr. Doncyson has handled all of the art booklets and practically designed all of the them. In fact he has had so much experience and become so proficient that he does the work for Masonic valleys in the east.

1. Of the book, reviewer AJ wrote this on Goodreads in 2016: "This was the number one best seller in 1898. Despite the title the book is about everyone else besides Caleb West. Loosely based on the author's building of Race Rock Light House in NY. ... I would estimate that 80% of the book is NOT about Caleb West, master diver. It was a good period piece to read about about life in the 1870s."

Here's an excerpt from the book that I came upon while flipping through: "Mrs. Leroy selected a low camp-stool, resting her back against the railing, where the warm tones of the lamp fell upon her dainty figure. She was at her best to-night. Her prematurely gray hair, piled in fluffy waves upon her head and held in place by a long jewel-tipped pin, gave an indescribable softness and charm to the rosy tints of her skin. Her blue-gray eyes, now deep violet, flashed and dimmed under the moving shutters of the lids, as the light of her varying emotions stirred their depths."

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