The Herald Bulletin

April 27, 2013

Sanford Tousey: Anderson artist whose heart was in the Wild West

By Beth Oljace
Anderson Public Library

— He was a successful magazine and book illustrator who became one of America’s most prolific children’s authors. He lived in New York and his heart was in the Wild West, but he got his start here in Anderson.

Sanford Tousey was born in Clay County, Kansas in the days when Kansas was still the Wild West. Tousey’s father, Moses, had come from Kentucky and was interested in horses, so the family owned several thoroughbreds and young Sanford rode whenever he could.

His great-grandfather owned a general store in a town not far from the Potowatami Indian Reservation and he would frequently take young Sanford with him when he visited the reservation to deliver items. It was a thrilling life for a young boy.

The Tousey family relocated to Anderson (probably because his mother had family here) when he was 8. Tousey’s father took a job as a bookkeeper for American Steel and Wire. Sanford began drawing early in his life. Not only did he develop his talent, but he used it in a very entrepreneurial way. He entered a drawing contest sponsored by St. Nicholas magazine and won a cash prize for his drawing in 1902.

The drawing caught the attention of Howard Pyle, a noted American illustrator who had just opened his own school of illustration art, who suggested that Sanford should be trained as an artist.

Graduated AHS in 1902

Tousey also took a job with the Anderson Herald. While still a high school student, he began supplying the Herald with cartoons for $7.50 a week. Tousey would draw the cartoons between classes. After school he would go to the Herald office for the difficult process of preparing the drawing for the printing press. The cartoon was transferred to a chalk-plate, which was a flat piece of steel coated with French chalk and silicate, and then baked. After the cartoon was engraved on the plate, the plate was clamped between two pieces of iron and a casting was made. The casting was then mounted on a block of wood, checked for errors and then a proof was made. This painstaking process took three to four hours.

Tousey’s cartoons were humorous takes on local politics and part of the job was getting up early the next day to read the local papers looking for his next subject. On the whole Tousey found the process interesting and it gave him valuable experience in learning to work under pressure and to tailor his drawings to someone else’s ideas and subjects.

Tousey graduated from Anderson High School in 1902 and used his savings to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. He returned to Anderson in early 1906 when his father died, but left soon afterward for Chicago.

He studied in Chicago and then in New York and Delaware at Howard Pyle’s school. By 1910 he was living in Manhattan and was beginning to sell illustrations to national magazines. His style was cartoonish and he became a regular contributor to JUDGE, which was an American humor magazine somewhat like the British magazine PUNCH.

Cowboy Tommy

For the next 20 years Sanford Tousey was a top magazine illustrator. He married and he and his wife had a daughter named Dorothy. The family lived in the Bronx. In the early 1930s, illness forced him to retire from the fast-paced world of magazine work. He had been drawing pictures for other people’s stories for a long time and now decided that he would begin telling stories of his own. Although Tousey had lived in big cities like Chicago and New York for all of his adult life, he didn’t look there for the stories he would tell, nor did he think of his years in Madison County. He looked back to his boyhood in the West — to horses and cowboys, rustlers and trail riders and Indians — for his inspiration.

His first book, published in 1932, was based on his own life. “Cowboy Tommy” is the story of a little boy who goes to visit his grandfather’s ranch near an Indian reservation and becomes acquainted with cowboys and Indians. (Thomas was Sanford Tousey’s first name.) Illustrated in bright colors in a cartoon-like style, the book celebrates the joys of ranch living. Tousey followed it up with a sequel, “Cowboy Tommy’s Roundup.”

Over the next 20 years, Sanford Tousey published over 40 books of his own and illustrated several for other authors. Some were biographies of real frontier heroes like Davy Crockett, Kit Carson, John C. Fremont and Wild Bill Hickock. Others were factual books about Indians.

By far the majority of the books, however, were stories about horses and about boys leading an active life. Tousey’s characters joined the circus, foiled rustlers, panned for gold, rode with the Pony Express and looked for treasure.

Some of the stories were taken from life. “Val Rides the Oregon Trail” is the story of Val and his family who travel the Oregon Trail from St. Louis to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Val rides most of the trail on a small but sturdy mule named Jinny. He takes part in a buffalo hunt and helps to fight off an Indian attack. The original Val was Tousey’s grandfather, Dr. Valentine Adamson.

Tousey’s books were popular and sold well. He was the favorite childhood author of former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Tousey retired from writing in 1952. He died in 1961 at his home in Monroe, N.Y.

Sanford Tousey’s connection with Anderson ended when he went to the Art Institute of Chicago for schooling. His mother continued to live here until the 1930s, but he would return only occasionally to visit her. He was periodically interviewed by the local newspapers and always wished the town well.

The Indiana Room has a large collection of Sanford Tousey’s books and will be doing a display of them during the month of May.