Sunday, February 3, 2008
When art critic Florence S. Berryman died at 91 in 1992, employees of a local auction company were dispatched to her stately brick townhouse in Washington's Kalorama neighborhood to go through her belongings.
Among the things found in her basement on Bancroft Place were some tattered plastic trash bags containing scores of mouse-eaten, water-stained drawings.
There were comical sketches of cigar-chomping politicians in waistcoats and gaiters, Republican elephants in high collars and top hats, and flop-eared Democratic donkeys in bow ties and fedoras.
There were caricatures of Uncle Sam, Miss Democracy and John Q. Public, and the experts soon realized that what the trash bags held were local treasures: original pen-and-ink drawings by Berryman's late father, Washington editorial cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman.
This Friday, in homage to the 2008 elections, the National Archive will open a free exhibit featuring 44 Berryman cartoons that capture the timelessness of American politics and a quaint world of whiskers, string ties and pinstripe pants in a Washington long gone.
The exhibit, which runs through Aug. 17, is called "Running for Office" and will be in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery in the Archives building at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
Berryman is perhaps best remembered for his creation of the teddy bear, which, before it became a toy, was born as a character in a Nov. 16, 1902, sketch in The Washington Post about President Theodore Roosevelt. Berryman took a story about Roosevelt declining to shoot an old bear on a hunting trip (according to the exhibit catalog) turned the bear into a cub and utilized it as motif in his cartoons for the rest of his life. He even used it when he signed his will 46 years later.
But Berryman's career spanned more than half a century -- from 1891 to 1949 -- and archives officials said last week that, in often daily front-page sketches, he chronicled presidential administrations from Grover Cleveland to Harry S. Truman. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1944.
"What longevity," said Stephen Hess, professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University and co-author of "Drawn & Quartered: The History of American Political Cartoons."
Yet some of Berryman's themes reflect issues that transcend his era.
A 1924 cartoon, for example, depicts symbols of the Democratic, Republican and Progressive parties vowing to lower taxes. Another, from 1948, suggests the hazards of preelection polling. And another from 1924 is aimed at the controversy over campaign finance.
Berryman's pen was mild, however, in a genre famous for daggers, and his subjects often treasured his caricatures.