"Uncle" Johnny's Page
How Raggedy Ann Was Created:
Johnny Gruelle (photo) (photo) is best known for creating Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, the whimsical dolls and storybook characters that escorted him to national prominence in only several years' time.
John Barton Gruelle was born in 1880 in Arcola, Illinois. His father, Richard Buckner Gruelle, was a self-taught portrait and landscape painter, musician and writer, who extolled regional values and aesthetics, ones that would profoundly influence Johnny and his younger brother and sister, Justin and Prudence. Johnny Gruelle's first book commission came in 1914, a set of illustrations for an ambitious volume of Grimms' fairy tales.
As passed on from generation to generation in the Gruelle family, the original Raggedy Ann doll may have belonged to Johnny Gruelle's mother. The story goes that Gruelle's daughter, Marcella, found her in an attic storage chest during one of her visits to Grandma. The doll had no face, so, it was her Dad, Johnny Gruelle, who put the famous black eyes, red triangle nose, and separated mouth on the original doll and, Grandma made a new dress.
Marcella Gruelle was a sickly child and had been suffering from the effects of the powerful smallpox vaccine. To keep up her spirits, Johnny Gruelle told her stories about Raggedy Ann to keep his daughter entertained. In 1915, Marcella at about age 13 or 14, succumbed to the infection and died. This was a devastating experience for the whole family but, Johnny Gruelle immersed himself in his work and began putting in written form the many stories her used to tell Marcella.
Gruelle may have specifically anticipated the potential for a commercial "folk" doll or, he may simply have been advised to seek protection for the family rag doll on which he had rendered a new and original face. In any event, in 1915, Johnny Gruelle applied for a design patent for a slue-footed doll he called Raggedy Ann (photo). In the weeks that followed, the Gruelle family set to work producing enough handmade Raggedy Ann dolls to sell to secure a registered trademark for the logo "Raggedy Ann". Though they predated by three years Gruelle's first published books about Raggedy Ann, these first trademarked dolls launched Gruelle's little yarn-haired moppet as a commercial entity.
By 1918, Gruelle had sold his first volume of "Raggedy Ann Stories" to the Chicago based P. F. Volland Company and by fall of that year the first editions were rolling off the presses. The book's covers featured front-and-back views of a Raggedy Ann doll, which the Volland Company had also begun producing to sell along with the books. Two years later, in 1920, Johnny Gruelle created Raggedy Andy, who made his literary debut in his own volume, "Raggedy Andy Stories", and also joined Raggedy Ann as a commercially available Volland doll. These events set Johnny Gruelle squarely on the path to becoming a well-known children's author and illustrator.
Gruelle's early artistic style is romantic, almost dreamlike, and his use of color borrows heavily from the gold-and-violet palettes of his father and other early-twentieth-century American fine artists. His later illustrations are bright and fluid. Facial expressions and body movements, be they of dwarfs, fairies, dolls, or mortals, are crisply captured with pen and brush. As an artist and a writer, Johnny Gruelle was an astute observer and a skilled adaptor; a bearer of tradition as well as an innovator. As a result, he created and presented the kinds of characters and themes that felt simultaneously familiar and brand new to his audience.
He was a man of many talents and persuasions: writer, cartoonist, musician, songwriter, toy designer, businessman, spiritualist, and nature-lover. Above all, he was an artisan with an astonishing and uncanny ability to communicate with children and young adults, teaching them through his many stories. Many of his story themes delt with love, caring and sharing and taught respect for others, especially our parents. His famous stories of these loveable dolls have amused and fascinated millions of children and the "young at heart".
It is the Gruelle ideal
that books for children
should contain nothing to
cause fright, suggest fear,
glorify mischief, excuse malice
or condone cruelty. That
is why they are called
"Books Good For
Famous people that had Raggedy Ann dolls included: Margaret Truman, Princess
Grace of Monaco and Caroline Kennedy, as well as thousands of Raggedy Ann collectors all over the world. According to Time Magazine in 1969, Raggedy Ann even showed up in Vietnam at some of the hospitals and rural villages. And, comedian, entertainer Bob Hope took several Raggedys to the GIs overseas when he went on tour.
Some have said that Raggedy Ann is the world's oldest continually produced rag doll, being in more or less continual production since 1915. And that is why Raggedy Ann, after over 85 years is still America's favorite Rag Doll!!
Excerpts from: Johnny Gruelle, Creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy by Patricia Hall, Pelican Publishing Co. 1993; The Raggedy Ann & Andy Family Album by Susan Ann Garrison, Schiffer Publishing Co., 1989.
Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy are ©by Johnny Gruelle ©Simon and Schuster, Inc., Licensed by United Media, Inc. All rights reserved.