Thomas Handforth Collection now available in ORCA

The Northwest Room has recently added the Thomas Handforth Collection to ORCA. This new collection combines the Tacoman artist's paintings, etchings, sketches, and other works with his personal papers.

Who was Thomas Handforth?

Born September 16, 1897, in Tacoma, Washington, Thomas Scofield Handforth was an artist, writer, and illustrator. He is best known for his children's book Mei Li, which won the 1939 Caldecott Medal for illustration. Handforth’s body of work is diverse and ranges from sketches, etchings, pastels, lithographs, oil painting, watercolor, charcoal as well as written works in the form of books, letters, etc. After the artist's death in 1948 the Tacoma Public Library agreed to become the archive for the major collections of his artwork and personal papers held mostly by members of his family. The pieces in Tacoma Public Library’s collection span his entire career. The collection contains early etchings and anatomical drawings created while he was enlisted in the US Army in 1918.

After the war, he returned to New York and studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller and later with Mahonri Young. Later he trained in draughtsmanship and painting at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He won numerous prizes and became a member of various societies of etchers.

In 1927 he visited Morocco and in 1929 relocated to Mexico. Two years later traveled to China where he stayed until 1937. It was in China where he developed his skills with lithography. From China, he went to Southeast Asia (then Indo-China) and returned to the United States at the approach of World War II. He returned to service in the Army and after his release returned to Tacoma in 1944 and again in 1945 to make portraits of his many former hometown friends.

This collection also includes drafts, mockups, and concept art for his book illustrations and other design projects. Handforth's artwork in this collection is generally divided into series based mostly on his location in the world. His years in France reflect work produced by many young talented artists of the period while his work from Morocco, Mexico, China, and India reflects his interpretation of cultures found there. 

If you are curious to learn more about the artist there is a terrific profile of his life and work in The Lavender Palette: Gay Culture and the Art of Washington State by David F. Martin. This book circulates if you send us a request.

We invite you to explore the collection and reach out to us if you have any questions about accessing the material.

CLICK HERE to visit the collection!