Clara Miller Burd (1873-1933)|‘Summer fun at the seaside’|Cover illustration for The Modern Priscilla (August 1922)

Summer may be nearly over, but there is still time to enjoy playing in the waves at the beach before we head home from our summer vacations and back to school or work. That is clearly the message Clara M. Burd conveyed in her August 1922 cover illustration for the magazine Modern Priscilla. Burd chose to explore children’s summer fun in the water by depicting three young bathing beauties—all appear to be images of young girls despite the various bathing costumes they wear—at play in the sea.

Modern Priscilla was a home, garden, and needlecraft magazine published from 1887 to1930 and meant as a how-to magazine for middle class American homemakers. Burd’s cover illustration for this end of summer issue of the magazine, should remind us that until after the second world war, most people found places and activities to help keep them cool during the heat of the summer.*  For example, in the third story in the Bobbsey Twins series of books about the middle-class Bobbsey family with two sets of fraternal twins (the first book was published in 1904 produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate), The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore (1907) takes the family to the seashore and describes the second half of the summer adventures told in the second book, The Bobbsey Twins in the Country (1907). The seashore portion of the story describes the family’s August month-long residence at their seashore home, called Ocean Cliff. During their first visit to the ocean that summer, little Flossie Bobbsey commented about the frightening aspect of the big waves, but “. . . when they “broke” on the sands they were only little splashy puddles for babies to wash their pink toes in.”**

Clara Burd’s illustration of children playing in the sea was constructed of a mixture of watercolor and gouache (a thicker, more opaque version of watercolor.) Burd used the application of gouache very selectively especially in the foamy water that splashes up on the children. Because Burd painted white highlights on the children’s arms and legs, we interpret them as being fully wet from their play in the water. Since we cannot see what the thick rope line is attached to in this illustration, we can only assume that it was placed there as a safety device for the children. In the late 18th and 19th century men and women usually bathed in the sea in segregated groups, entering and exiting the water in bathing machines.  After the turn of the century sea bathing was beginning to enjoy wide acceptance and the use of bathing machines was in steep decline.  By the 1920s people everywhere were more popularly enjoying bathing in the sea.

Clara Miller Burd was raised on Long Island and trained in New York at the Chase School and then at the National Academy of Design. In 1898 she also studied in Paris. After her return to New York in 1900 she studied stained glass design at Tiffany Studios and worked as a stain glass artist.  In the teens she also began creating illustrations for children’s books. Eventually her work extended to designing magazine covers for magazines as Woman’s Home Companion, Woman’s World, Literary Digest, Farmer’s Wife, and Canadian Home-Journal.

* See the previous entry in Exploring Illustration for the reference to air conditioning.


August 26, 2010

By Joyce K. Schiller, Curator, The Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies
Norman Rockwell Museum