David Schulson was a collector by nature, and back in the late 1970s he parlayed it into his very own autograph business on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. As his business grew, he set aside the most precious items for his own collection, including hundreds of illustrated letters by some of the most important cultural and political figures of the 20th century.
Schulson passed away, but his collection lives on in the new book Scrawl: A-Z of Famous Doodles (Rizzoli), released by his family—wife Claudia Strauss-Schulson, and children Caren Strauss-Schulson and Todd Strauss-Schulson. In the book’s foreword, son Todd Strauss-Schulson, a movie director, writes, “There’s something about a doodle that’s unconscious, automatic. When you’re daydreaming, you doodle. When you’re on the phone, you doodle. When you’re bored in school, you draw in the margins of your binder.
“The illustrations in this book are an intimate window into the playful, whimsical, almost childlike side of the artists, writers, scientists, and politicians who shaped the world and culture we live in.”
Claudia, Todd, and Caren shared some of their thoughts and recollections about their favorite drawings from the book.
“When I was 7, dad would torture me with this Roland Topor. I thought the image was so scary. A field of women’s heads growing out of the ground like cabbage. Hair being braided… it was eerie in a way that gave me nightmares. And each night before bed dad would take the framed drawing off the wall and walk it into my room and say goodnight with it in his hands…like a prank! I had nightmares about it for years. Today it’s on the wall of my apartment…because I’m not scared anymore.” >>Todd Strauss-Schulson
I love the use of doodling in this autograph letter by Claude Monet. It was written to his art supplier while painting his very famous Water Lilies series. In this letter he is ordering a dozen flat brushes that he needs in order to complete his works. He sketches the brush, to ensure nothing gets lost in translation, demonstrating the exact dimensions of the flat paintbrush. I love seeing this impressionist painter doodle for a very practical purpose. >>Caren Strauss-Schulson
Antoine de Saint Exupery
“Growing up The Little Prince was my favorite book. To this day it is the only book I have ever read in one sitting. This original pencil sketch hung outside my bedroom door and would evoke the same emotions I felt when first reading the story. Seeing the author’s early depiction of the Little Prince offers a window into the thought process of the character, a sense of intimacy and a deeper way to experience the work.”
“I also can’t forget the sketch of the Boa Constrictor swallowing an elephant which, as stated in the book, resembles a hat and always brings a smile to my face.” >>Caren Strauss-Schulson
“Queen Victoria’s early drawing intrigues me. The four individual pencil sketches seem to be practice drawings, yet taken together they look like animals and their riders trotting around a path from background to foreground. The future queen captioned the horse drawn carriage, “Mama in her Phaeton,” which was an open horse-drawn carriage. Victoria, who enjoyed riding horses and donkeys, might have sketched herself on the donkey in the left foreground, just below her mother’s rig. The cursive handwriting suggests she rendered the illustration when she was a young adolescent in the early 1830s. In 1837, at the age of 16, Victoria became queen and reigned as the longest lived monarch until her great-great granddaughter Elizabeth II, the current Queen of England, surpassed her. Most intriguing for me in this sketch is the future queen’s depiction of her mother perched rather insecurely on her carriage seat. I wondered whether Victoria intentionally drew her mother sitting precariously, whether her drawing revealed her own artistic limitations, and whether a charming picture on the surface revealed the drama surrounding Victoria’s accession to the British throne.” >>Claudia Strauss
“I like this Mark Twain drawing because it’s funny and because I did not know that the great American writer and humorist held luncheons for women called “Doe Luncheons.” He drew this comical sketch of Jonah and the Whale for his niece’s place card at his second Doe Luncheon, Feb. 11, 1908. He captioned the sketch, “Jonah escaping. Or maybe arriving, it is uncertain which on account of indefiniteness.”
The Doe Luncheons began almost as a dare when writer and friend, Kate Douglas Wiggin (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm author), suggested that he have a luncheon for women to complement the Stag Luncheons he hosted for men. The first Doe Luncheons took place about a month earlier on January 14, 1908.” >>Claudia Strauss
I remember the day dad bought a collection of these pornographic dick pics by Fellini. He showed them all to me all giddy, explaining that they were hilarious self-portraits and that Fellini was a cartoonist before he was a filmmaker. In one drawing his penis was yelling at him, in the one pictured here a jockey is riding his phallus. I loved them…my mother on the other hand hated them. Dad wanted to put them on the walls of the house, I vividly remember her saying to him “over my dead body, and keep them away from the kids!” For me it’s a personal victory to get one of these in the book. Dad is somewhere giggling at it still. >>Todd Strauss-Schulson
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