Monday, June 6, 2011


Maginel Wright Enright Barney was born Margaret Ellen Wright, but her mother created "Maginel" as a conjunction of Maggie Nell.  And maybe "Maggie-Nell" is how they pronounced Maginel, although I prefer to pronounce it more like the word magic, as in "MAJ-inel." 

What a gene pool.  Her older brother was Frank Lloyd Wright, and we all know what he did for a good share of his life.  (Built lots of buildings, chased lots of women.)  Frank was 14 years older than Maginel, and a lifelong collector of Japanese prints.  It would seem that looking at her older brother's collection certainly had an influence on her work. 

From "Flower Fairies, c. 1915

 Maginel's rendering of plants and flowers has always been, to me, more interesting, nuanced and technically superb than her illustration of human beings.  However, since she was often illustrating fairies and children for children's books, the work was going to be simpler and stylized. 

I've also been intrigued by her use of large color fields in illustrations:

From When Little Thoughts Go Rhyming, c. 1916

There's a lot of mathematical precision in the way she divided and composed each illustration -- and I think it created an order and serenity in her work.  I've never read any scholarship regarding how much other artists working at the same time influenced her work, nor do I know anyone has taken the time to look into it.  However, it would make sense that she was looking at a lot of contemporary, cutting-edge artwork --  it wasn't like the Wright family were cultural slouches.  And my primary reason for speculating about her influences are the incredibly intense illustrations for Honey Bear, c. 1923.

The author Tom Wolfe, who says that Honey Bear made him want to be a writer before he could read, called Maginel an artist is the "japanais vienna secessionist" style, which in Tom Wolfe-ese, means Japanese influenced art nouveau.  And most of the time, that was true.  But to my eyes, her work in Honey Bear looks like Matisse in his Fauvism period:

And since Fauvism came from the term les Fauves, which means "the wild beasts" and Honey Bear was about a wild beast in a forest, I think doing Fauvist illustrations was absolutely perfect.  Maybe that wasn't what Maginel was up to, but it's my theory and I'm sticking with it.   

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