I'm no art historian (in fact, I did terrible in high school art history because I would make up my own names for famous historical works), but here I am, taking a stab at telling the stories behind the first collection of Rare Breed T-shirts to honour the artists behind these stunning works and to give a glimpse into a bygone era during which they were created.
Today's story is about The Dryad, a beautiful shirt that seems to have a healing impact on all those it touches.
The story of the Dryad illustration starts with a little magazine, the Savoy, which was printed in 1896 in London, England, and has been described as "a manifesto in revolt against Victorian materialism." It featured literature in the Symbolist movement which embraced dreaminess, mysticism and otherworldly themes, as well as visual art in the same vein. One of the founders of the magazine, Arthur Symons tried to distance the magazine from other controversial art movements of the era (namely, the Decadent movement which could be raunchy or hyper-materialistic) by stating, "For us, all art is good which is good art."
Cover of The Savoy No. 5
In the 5th edition of this short-lived zine we find the Dryad. Dryads or nymphs appear in Greek mythology as nature spirits who inhabit trees and take the form of young women. These shy guardian spirits were thought to protect their host tree and live only as long as the tree itself.
The Dryad as it appeared in the 5th Edition of the Savoy
The original artist behind this image was Mabel Dearmer, who created it as a pen and ink drawing. The image was then reproduced by wood engraver Paul H. Naumann for printing.
Mabel Dearmer (1872–1915) was a prolific artist and in addition to her work in illustration she was a playwright, novelist, poet and authored several children's books. Her art was widely published and she earned an income creating posters and illustrations, which helped support her husband, who was a Deacon.
Selected illustrations by Mabel Dearmer from Children's Book "Wymps, and other Fairy Tales"
The Frog Princess by Mabel Dearmer
Even though she was sometimes criticized for not being a very "technical" artist, her creativity and imagination more than made up for it. Even critics admitted that over time her technical skill developed, particularly during the 4 years she spent illustrating children's books. This, combined with her vibrant personality found Dearmer collaborating with some of the most influential British artists of the time. In fact, Dearmer was the first female artist to have her work featured on the cover of the The Yellow Book, the leading arts and literature journal in Britain in the 1890’s.
Mabel's Dearmer's cover illustration for the Yellow Book
Dearmer was a pacifist and a feminist who participated in the women’s suffrage movement (fighting for women's right to vote). When the first World War arose, these ideologies were put to the test. While as a Pacifist, Dearmer wished to abstain from participating in any war efforts, some voices within the Women's Suffrage movement were calling upon women to join field hospitals to show that women contributed equally to society and thus deserved equal rights. Ultimately, after attending a service hosted by the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, Dearmer decided to join the war effort and ended up working as a hospital orderly. Her position did not put her in active conflict but was a compromise to her pacifist beliefs. She died of typhoid fever and pneumonia while serving in this role in 1915 at age 43.
One biography describes Dearmer and her husband as "committed socialists" of the variety that believed in "opening the kingdom of art and beauty to all." In this respect I feel a kinship with her and have even used the same words when describing this project, calling it a "celebration of art and beauty".
I hope that Mabel Dearmer would be honoured to have her art continuing to spread beauty today and am grateful for the opportunity to be part of that process. ♥️