NEW ULM - Thanks to the sharp eye of a New Ulm resident, the identity of the creators of the antique cartoons discovered last month in the city-owned Fred Johnson Collection has been unveiled.
New Ulm Public Library Director Larry Hlavsa identified the two cartoonists responsible for the drawings: George Washington Rehse and Charles Lewis Bartholomew.
Hlavsa said that Bartholomew and Rehse were the most famous cartoonists in Minnesota during the heyday of local political cartoons, which lasted from 1890 to 1917.
This cartoon is one of the political cartoons discovered in the Fred Johnson Collection. It depicts Gov. John Johnson, Fred’s brother, who was the 16th governor of Minnesota. He became a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president, but he died in 1909 of complications from an appendicitis operation.
Prior to 1890, newspapers tended to be text heavy with minimal images or art in the pages. Hlavsa said that Bartholomew was the first political cartoonist in Minnesota to have his cartoons regularly published. He said that Bartholomew was partially responsible for spawning the desire for local political cartoons.
During the prolific period, every major Minnesota newspaper employed its own cartoons, as well as a few small town papers. Bartholomew and Rehse worked for papers in the Twin Cities. Notably, Bartholomew worked at the Minneapolis Journal, which was one of several newspapers that were eventually merged to form the StarTribune. The trend eventually petered out as national syndication of political cartoons became prominent following World War I.
"Because there wasn't syndication for cartoons during that era, it made sense that newspapers kept a cartoonist," said Hlavsa, "What's impressive is when you realize how many cartoons they made. It's kind of amazing, because they had one for every day of the week during that period."
Hlavsa said that the antique political cartoons appear to be originals, based on the size, paper board used and visible brush strokes.
So far, the New Ulm Art and Collections Advisory Board has not planned any actions for the cartoons. Board Chair Carolyn Borgen has indicated that the cartoons may be assessed for their value and possibly sold, the same as a portion of the Fred Johnson Collection is planned to be sold. No official actions have been announced yet.
Hlavsa's knowledge about the cartoons comes from personal research on Minnesota political cartoons when he submitted a book proposal to the Minnesota Historical Society in the 1970s. The proposal didn't pan out, but Hlavsa said that he might be interested in completing the book after he retires.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at email@example.com)