Public Domain Day advent calendar #18: The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

“Art when really understood is the province of every human being.”

That’s the opening sentence of The Art Spirit, a book of articles, notes, and addresses by Robert Henri, an American painter and art teacher.   One of the key figures in the Ashcan School of art drawn from everyday life, Henri stressed the importance of art that did not limit itself to elite audiences or subjects, or imitate existing styles.  “The whole value of art,” he says in the book, “is in the artist’s ability to see well into what is before him.”  Technique is important to effectively express what the artist sees, he says, noting that an artist may need to “invent technique that will especially fit his need” to make “the most precise statement”.  But the effectiveness of art, as Henri sees it, ultimately flows from the insight and perception of the artist, who looks beyond obvious surface features.  “A genius is one who can see,” he says.

Henri’s book has stayed in print in multiple editions since its initial 1923 publication.  His teaching has influenced generations of artists in a variety of fields, including fellow painters like Edward Hopper as well as filmmakers like David Lynch.   Maria Popova has a good summation of Henri’s philosophy in a 2013 post on her BrainPickings blog, “Beloved Painter and Philosopher Robert Henri on How Art Binds Us Together”.

The Art Spirit was edited by Margery Ryerson, who had been a student of Henri’s.  (One section in the book is entirely made up of notes she took in Henri’s classes.)  Ryerson went on to be an influential artist and teacher in her own right, and you can see many of her paintings and a tribute catalog online.  One can see in her career the principle that Henri stated, and that Popova restates in her post, of creativity building on the work of past creators: “All any man can hope to do is to add his fragment to the whole… He belongs to a great brotherhood, bears great kinship to his kind. He takes and he gives. He benefits by taking and he benefits by giving.”

In 14 days, the book that Henri and Ryerson created will be given to the public domain in the US.  I hope that artists of all kinds will be able to take things of value from it, to help them in turn give their own creations to the world.

2019 update: Link to full text of The Art Spirit, now in the US public domain, courtesy of HathiTrust.

Posted in adventcalendar | Leave a comment

Public Domain Day advent calendar #17: Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

Prolific humorist P. G. Wodehouse has many fans, both in his native Britain and in his adopted home in the United States.  Due to our differing copyright laws, we in the US get his early work in the public domain first, but the UK will get his later work before we do.  His first published novel, The Pothunters (1902), has been in the public domain here since 1958.  The works from the end of Wodehouse’s career won’t be public domain here until the start of the 2070s, while they’ll join the public domain in the UK along with the rest of his works in 2046.

Wodehouse’s most famous creation is Jeeves, the ultra-competent valet to a less-competent Bertie Wooster, an idle rich English gentleman who gets into many difficult situations with various friends and relations.  Jeeves is often the person who gets Bertie out of those scrapes, winning Bertie’s frequent adulation. “A most amazing cove,” says Bertie of Jeeves.  “So dashed competent in every respect”.

The basic character of Jeeves is in the public domain in the US, having first appeared in print in the story “Extricating Young Gussie” in the September 18, 1915 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.  Jeeves continued to appear in various stories throughout the rest of Wodehouse’s career, making his final bow in Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (1974; published in the US as The Cat-Nappers).

In 1923, Wodehouse took 11 Jeeves stories that had previously appeared in magazines and turned them into a novel of sorts, published in the UK as The Inimitable Jeeves and in the US simply as JeevesJeeves is the name used in the book’s 1923 copyright registration, and in its 1950 renewal. The magazine stories are already in the public domain in the US, having appeared in The Strand, The Saturday Evening Post, and Cosmopolitan between June 1918 and December 1922.  Wodehouse was still entitled to claim copyright on changes he had made for the book version, however.

Wodehouse’s changes for Jeeves seem to be mostly intended to create a “fix-up”, with more continuity between the stories than they had in their original separate publications.  For instance, the “Purity of the Turf” chapter in the book starts with a couple of new paragraphs connecting it with earlier incidents, and then continues as the magazine version does.  Sometimes, though, Wodehouse made more significant changes between magazine and book versions.  The serialized magazine version of Leave it to Psmith, Wodehouse’s other major 1923 work, and the last to feature another of his well-known characters, has a notably different ending than the revised book version does.

In 15 days, we’ll have both the first Jeeves novel and the last Psmith novel joining the public domain in the US.  With both of those becoming free next month, I can see American Wodehouse fans then thinking to themselves as Bertie Wooster does in one of the Jeeves stories, “I can’t remember having been chirpier”.

Posted in adventcalendar | Leave a comment

Public Domain Day advent calendar #16: Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“For one glorious, supreme moment, came ‘the flash.’ … It couldn’t be described–not even to Father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke of it to any one else. It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside–but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond–only a glimpse–and heard a note of unearthly music.”

By 1920, Canadian writer Lucy Maud Montgomery had an extremely popular heroine who she was tired of writing about.  Anne of Green Gables, her first book, had been an instant success when it was published in 1908, and Montgomery soon issued a number of sequels featuring the plucky orphan Anne Shirley, her friends and relations, and the town of Avonlea where she lived.  In 1921, Montgomery announced that Rilla of Ingleside, a novel about the experiences of Anne’s daughter in the first World War, would be the last “Anne” book.

In 1923, Montgomery introduced a new orphan heroine, Emily Starr, in Emily of New Moon.  Emily was in some ways more like her author than Anne was.  Like Montgomery, Emily was a writer, and aspired to write professionally.  “I think I shall be either a great poetess or a distinguished novelist,” Emily says to Dean Priest, a young man she meets in this book, and with whom she would have a complicated relationship in the book’s two sequels.

But another resemblance of the character to the author was the fleeting feelings of transcendent joy she would sometimes experience, which she called ‘the flash’.  The quote at the top of this post is how it’s described in Emily of New Moon.  Montgomery describes a similar experience in her 1917 autobiography, The Alpine Path, where she writes “I caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond – only a glimpse – but those glimpses have always made life worth while.”  It’s an experience that others have had as well.  Brenton Dickieson compares it to the ineffable “joy” that C. S. Lewis relates in his autobiography as experiencing in his youth.  In The Alpine Path, Montgomery’s description of that “enchanting realm” appear alongside her appreciation of nature and her passionate fondness of reading, suggesting that both of those pleasures could be occasions of that ‘flash’.

Sadly, much of Montgomery’s later life was not so joyful.  She suffered increasingly severe outbreaks of depression, exacerbated by her husband’s worsening mental illness and the stress she felt about the developments of the second World War, and her mental and physical pain appears to have been what killed her, directly or indirectly, in 1942.

Emily of New Moon was copyrighted in 1923, with a renewal filed in 1951.  Like the other creative works we’ve now spent half of December discussing, it will join the public domain in the US 16 days from now.  I hope that some of them may be occasions for flashes of joy or inspiration in many of us.  If there are works that have done that for you, whether or not they’re part of the imminent public domain cohort, I’d love to hear about them.

2019 update: Link to full text of Emily of New Moon, now in the US public domain, courtesy of Project Gutenberg Australia.


Posted in adventcalendar | Leave a comment

Public Domain Day advent calendar #15: Keen by Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Weep him dead and mourn as you may,
Me, I sing as I must:
Blessed be Death, that cuts in marble
What would have sunk to dust! ”

The poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay made frequent appearances in print in the early 20th century.  She first caught the public’s attention in 1912 with her poem “Renascence”, written while she was still a teenager.  In 1923 she won the Pulitzer Prize for various works of poetry that she had published the previous year.  The works specifically recognized were The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, A Few Figs from Thistles, and a group of sonnets that appeared in American Poetry: A Miscellany. All were published in 1922 and are in the public domain now.

Her published output didn’t slow down in 1923.  In the 1950 Catalog of Copyright Entries I find renewals for several of her poems published in well-known magazines during 1923, all of which will be joining the public domain 17 days from now.  One 1923 poem that particularly sticks with me is “Keen”, which was published in the July 1923 issue of the Century magazine.  The first stanza, quoted at the top of this post, sets the mood of the poem, which takes cold comfort in the sudden death of a loved one lost at sea.  At least, the narrator muses, I’ll remember the happiness of the relationship we had, which never had time to deteriorate.

Millay herself died suddenly in 1950 at the age of 58, and was discovered at the bottom of a staircase in her home.  A number of friends and relatives of mine have also lost loved ones around this time of year.  If those close to Millay were like them, I think that given the choice, they’d want to stay with her longer, even if joys like the poem’s “summer month” did not last.   And I think the narrator of the poem, who sings “as I must”, might ultimately agree.  But without the power to make that choice, the narrator continues to hold this small bit of consolation “to my heart”.

In 17 days, we’ll have this poem and several others by Millay joining the public domain in the US.  I hope we all will be around to enjoy them then.  And I hope that even before then, we can all spend some meaningful time with those around us who we love.

2019 update: Link to full text of “Keen” as published in the July 1923 issue of The Century Magazine now in the US public domain, courtesy of HathiTrust.

Posted in adventcalendar | Leave a comment

Public Domain Day advent calendar #14: Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs

If you’ve been finding these advent calendar posts interesting, you might want to check out some of the other people and organizations that are also promoting the public domain, and the upcoming Public Domain Day. One of the groups that’s been at it for a while is the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University.  Since 2010, they’ve posted an annual observance of Public Domain Day.  They also created a graphic for it that I like a lot, and that they’ve been kind enough to share under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

Since nothing published has been entering the public domain in the US for the last 20 years, their annual Public Domain Day posts have instead highlighted what works might have entered the public domain in the year that passed, if the maximum copyright duration available when the works were published was still in effect.  Until 1962 that was 56 years, so they started in 2010 highlighting works from 1953, and got up to 1961 by the time of their 2018 post.

They would have run out of works to feature under that principle this year.  In 1962, the first copyright extension since 1909 was passed, halting entry into the public domain of works copyrighted on September 19, 1906 or later, and ensuring that works copyrighted September 19, 1962 or later would get longer terms, and eventually be eligible for the maximum term established by an anticipated overhaul of US copyright law.  (The Copyright Office has more details on these interim extensions.)

That overhaul to US law was eventually enacted as the Copyright Act of 1976.  That Act set the maximum term of the copyrights that preceded the Act to 75 years, and rounded up all copyright terms to the end of the calendar year.  (That’s why we’ll be getting a full year’s worth of works in the public domain on Public Domain Day, rather than having copyrights expire over the course of the year.)  Under the new law, US fans of the public domain had nothing to celebrate until 1982, when the remainder of 1906’s copyrighted works finally joined the public domain.  We continued to get another year’s works in the public domain for the 16 changes of the year that followed, until 1998’s Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act froze the public domain for 20 years.

Fortunately, this year the Center, along with the rest of the US, gets to celebrate works that actually are entering the public domain here very soon.  The Center’s been particularly thorough about it, producing an Excel spreadsheet with over 1,000 copyright-renewed works from 1923 that will be joining the public domain 18 days from now.

Today I’d like to draw attention to one of the works featured in their Public Domain Day 2019 post: Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  This was the ninth novel in Burroughs’ popular Tarzan series, and one of many adventure stories by this prolific author.  Many of his stories were initially serialized in newspapers or magazines.  Those installments would typically end in a cliffhanger, urging readers to buy the next issue to find out what happened next.  (You can see an example in the ending to one of the Golden Lion installments.)

Tarzan and the Golden Lion began its serialization in the December 9, 1922 issue of Argosy All-Story Weekly.  As the tireless bibliographers at the FictionMags Index have documented, it continued for 6 more weekly installments, concluding with the January 20, 1923 issue.  The book publication came out in March 1923, and its copyright was renewed in 1951.  Argosy, like a number of the other popular pulp fiction magazines of the time, has systematically-renewed issue copyrights, and as of today has active renewals all the way back to its earliest 1923 issue.

The first four installments of Tarzan and the Golden Lion, as they were originally serialized in December 1922 issues of Argosy, have been in the public domain since 1998.  The three parts that tell the rest of the story, in the January 1923 issues, remain under copyright until 2019 arrives.  Or to put it another way, for folks waiting for stories to enter the public domain, this adventure serial has had a cliffhanger lasting for 21 years.

The public domain in the US will get the story’s ending (and its revisions for the book version) 18 days from now, along with the rest of 1923.  I hope that in the future we won’t be left in suspense for years for each succeeding year’s worth of copyrights.

2019 update: Link to full text of Tarzan and the Golden Lion, now in the US public domain, courtesy of Gutenberg Australia.

Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Public Domain Day advent calendar #13: Safety Last! by Hal Roach, Sam Taylor, and Tim Whelan

Yesterday the Library of Congress announced the latest additions to its National Film Registry.  The registry, which has now been active for 30 years, is intended to list films that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”, and to ensure their preservation, whether by the Library of Congress itself or by other organizations.

One of the 750 films in the registry will be joining the US public domain 19 days from now.  Safety Last!, a silent comedy whose best-known image is that of Harold Lloyd’s character dangling from the hand of a skyscraper’s clock, high above a city street, was copyrighted in 1923, and the copyright was renewed in 1950.

The copyright renewal registration says the film is “by” Hal Roach, Sam Taylor, and Tim Whelan, all of whom are credited as writing the story.  Hal Roach also produced it, and Sam Taylor also co-directed it.  The other director, Fred C. Newmeyer, is not mentioned in the Catalog of Copyright Entries renewal record; the popular present-day notion of the director being the main “author” of a film doesn’t appear to have taken root at the time. Current copyright registration practices for authors allow a wide variety of individuals to claim authorship for role such as “direction, production, editing, music, script and cinematography”.  Alternatively, a film production company can claim the entire authorship for itself, if the film was made as a “work for hire”.

Safety Last! was added to the National Film Registry in 1994.  The Registry website has an essay by Richard Bann discussing the movie and the making of the iconic skyscraper clock scene. Bann spent $4 million preserving this and other Hal Roach films.

Many other films were released and copyrighted in 1923, though that’s the only film on the Registry joining the public domain in January.  (Salome, a film based on Oscar Wilde’s play of the same title, is also listed on the Registry as a 1923 release, but it was copyrighted in 1922, and is already in the public domain.)  Unfortunately, many other films of the time are no longer available to be viewed, much less preserved.  A 2013 study written by David Pierce written for Library of Congress, The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929concluded that only 14% of the feature films produced in the US in that time period survive in their original format, and that 70% “are believed to be completely lost”.

Traces of those lost films exist in our cultural record alongside the surviving films.  The Copyright Office has published cumulative lists of film copyright registrations for 1894-1912 and 1912-1939 that can be used to see what was produced in those early years of film.  (Project Gutenberg has also transcribed the 1894-1912 listings and 1912-1939 catalog, putting them in formats convenient to search.)  Any renewals filed for these films can be found in online scans of the Catalog of Copyright Entries.

If you want to get a better sense of the films than bare listings provide, it helps to see how they were promoted and discussed at the time.  One good place to look for that is The Moving Picture World, a trade magazine for the American movie industry published from 1907 to 1927, the height of the silent picture era.  It has articles, publicity photos, and full-page advertising spreads for many of the films released in American cinemas, some of which are now otherwise lost.  We now have a near-complete run of The Moving Picture World online, thanks to libraries that have scanned their copies and uploaded them to the Internet Archive.  (I’m also thankful that the magazine didn’t renew its copyrights, allowing the run to be be freely readable online now all the way to the end.)  Other movie periodicals are also online; I list a number of them on The Online Books Page, and am happy to hear of others I can list.

While full restoration of old films can be an expensive undertaking, even inexpensive copying and reformatting would help preserve access to many films that might otherwise disappear entirely.  I hope that public domain status, along with generous copyright exemptions for preservation and restoration, will permit a broad range of people and organizations interested in particular films to keep them alive.  With a new crop of films joining the public domain in January, it might be worth doing another search of film archives and collections to see if any of those “lost” films turn up, and preserve them while there’s still time to do so.

2019 update: Link to full silent video of Safety Last!, now in the US public domain, on Wikimedia Commons.


Posted in adventcalendar | Leave a comment

Public Domain Day advent calendar #12: Cane by Jean Toomer

Both the book Cane, and its author, Jean Toomer, resist easy classification. It’s now considered by many literary critics to be one of the major American literary works of its time, but despite admiring reviews, it did not sell widely, was out of print for notable intervals, and is not well-known to the general public.  The book’s depictions of African Americans (both in the characters portrayed and in the expression of the author) didn’t fit into the expectations of many white and black readers.  As Langston Hughes put it, “”O, be respectable, write about nice people, show how good we are,’ say the Negroes. ‘Be stereotyped, don’t go too far, don’t shatter our illusions about you, don’t amuse us too seriously. We will pay you,’ say the whites. Both would have told Jean Toomer not to write Cane.”  Toomer himself, who had both black and white ancestry and attended segregated schools on both sides of the color line growing up, didn’t want his publisher to emphasize his “colored blood” in the marketing of the book.  His racial self-identification would vary over the course of his life.

The book’s structure was also unusual, being a series of vignettes, not always straightforwardly connected, employing prose, poetry, and dramatic dialogue.  It’s often classified as part of the Harlem Renaissance that was getting increasing attention in the 1920s, but it could just as easily be grouped with the sort of experimental modernist literature that white writers like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Gertrude Stein were publishing.

The book was published and copyrighted in 1923, and Toomer renewed the copyright in 1950.  By then, Toomer had decided not to pursue literary fame, and was occasionally publishing pieces like this one on his adopted Quaker religion.  In between, he wrote and sometimes published other literary works, but I have not found copyright renewals under his name other than the renewal for Cane, though he lived until 1967.  The influence of the book lives on in other writers who have appreciated it, though.  One of those writers is Alice Walker, who said in a 1973 interview that the book “has been reverberating in me to an astonishing degree. I love it passionately, could not possibly exist without it.”

Many 20th century literary works by African American authors are now in the public domain, either because they were published before 1923, or because they did not have their copyrights renewed.   (For instance, many of Zora Neale Hurston‘s early works were never renewed, and the influential NAACP magazine The Crisis also did not renew its copyrights, though some of its contributors renewed theirs.)  Some of these works are online now, and some are not.  In 20 days, I’m looking forward to seeing Cane join the public domain here, and have it and other often-overlooked works by African Americans become free to read and appreciate online.

2019 update: Link to full text of Cane, now in the US public domain, courtesy of HathiTrust.


Posted in adventcalendar | Leave a comment