Sunday, August 21, 2011

Guest Article By Michele Behan

Featured Writer Michele Behan
Lew’s recent blog post of July 16, in which he asked Keith Cranmer to explain the design elements of the bookplate he engraved for James Goode, inspired me to analyze this unusual bookplate for Harold Schjoth Palmer.

Harold Schjoth Palmer (1890-1959) was the first professor of geology at the University of Hawaii and a pioneer in the geologic and hydraulic study of ground water in Hawaii.

Harold Palmer’s bookplate is full of curious symbols and mysteries, including the designer, whose initials, F. S. P., do not correspond to any known bookplate engravers.

Both Lew and a friend suggested that perhaps the designer was related to Harold Schjoth Palmer, since the last two initials in their names, S.P., are identical.

That little clue led me to further research, which revealed that Palmer’s mother, Fredrikke Marie Schjoth Palmer, was born in Norway in 1860.

According to a memorial biography of Harold Schjoth Palmer published by the University of Hawaii, she “also showed much artistic ability and later studied with the best teachers of portrait painting in Christiania (now Oslo) and Berlin.”

So it is reasonable to conclude that Fredrikke Schjoth Palmer (F.S.P.) was the artist and designer of her son’s intriguing bookplate.

Fredrikke Schjoth Palmer is listed as an artist known for magazine illustration and figure painting. She was a staff artist for Woman’s Journal, a women’s rights periodical published from 1870-1931.

The curious traveler on Palmer’s bookplate bears a strong resemblance to Gandalf, the wizard character created by J.R.R. Tolkien. Aside from the staff, the traveler is holding in his other hand something that looks like a large leaf or an enormous feather.

This puzzled me until I remembered Lew writing that bookplates often contain rebus symbolism. Of course! The traveler is holding a large palm leaf, corresponding to the last name of Palmer.

Harold Palmer’s Norwegian ancestry on his mother's side explains the Viking ship at the top of the bookplate. But what about the Gandalfian traveler?

It was said of Gandalf that Tolkien derived his inspiration from Odin the Wanderer. In a letter of 1946, Tolkien wrote that he thought of Gandalf as an "Odinic wanderer." Other commentators have also compared Gandalf to the Norse god Odin in the guise of a "Wanderer" --- presenting as an old man with one eye, a long white beard, a wide brimmed hat, and a staff.
So again, Harold Palmer’s Norwegian mother incorporated the myths and symbols of her native land in her design of this bookplate.

The symbolism at the bottom left corner of the bookplate is a reference to Harold Schjoth Palmer’s graduation from Yale in 1912. The “miner’s badge” of crossed pick and sledgehammer directly above Harold Schjoth Palmer’s name is a representation of his profession as a geologist.

The last symbol on the bookplate is the only one that still has me stumped. If anyone can explain the winged griffin pictured on the lower right corner, please post a comment!

Comment Submitted By Jennie Coleman:
Before I read through the text in its entirety I had already studied the bookplate and consequently expected to read some reference to the Welsh dragon (as opposed to winged griffin) at bottom right hand corner of the plate. Might it be that there is some Welsh ancestry in Palmer’s background? There’s mining aplenty in Wales – coal in the south and slate in the north. Or, did Palmer have academic associations with the Welsh mining industry?

I could well be drawing a rather long bow here, but you did ask for suggestions!

Kind regards
Jennie Coleman

Additional thoughts from Michele

Harold Palmer’s bookplate was full of curious symbols and mysteries. In my article which Lew published on August 21, I wrote, “The last symbol on the bookplate is the only one that still has me stumped. If anyone can explain the griffin pictured on the lower right corner, please post a comment!”
Thank you for the comment(s) which have been posted so far.
In the time since I wrote that article on analyzing the design elements of a bookplate, the mystery of the griffin haunted me. I kept thinking, "How can a mythical griffin relate to Harold Schjoth Palmer?"
From Wikipedia:

“The griffin, griffon, or gryphon (Greek: γρύφων, grýphōn, or γρύπων, grýpōn, early form γρύψ, grýps; Latin: gryphus) is a legendary creature of the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature.”
The duality of the griffin creature kept resonating in my brain: Half lion, half eagle.
Then, an idea hit me: Harold Schjoth Palmer’s ancestry was half Norwegian (mother) and half American (father). The eagle is a distinctly American icon, but what about the lion? I had a hunch that there might be a connection between the lion and Norway.
When I researched the country of Norway, I was astounded to discover that the coat of arms of Norway is described as “a crowned, golden lion rampant holding an axe with an argent blade, on a crowned, triangular and red escutcheon.”
A griffin is a cross between a lion and an eagle. Harold Palmer, in the eyes of his artist mother, could certainly be no less!
The griffin on Palmer’s bookplate may have been meant to symbolize Harold Palmer's mixed maternal and paternal ancestry ... the lion of Norway blended with the eagle of America.

I want to thank Michele for submitting this article and encourage you all to submit articles and bookplate questions.
I also wish to thank Jim Lewis for submitting scans of silent movie stars which I will be adding to last week's (August 14th) posting.
Lew Jaffe


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