H. Bradley: Early Master of Graphic Design
At the peak of Will H. Bradley's
career in the late 19th and early 20th century he was acknowledged
as one of the premier American graphic artists of his time
and had made a marked impact on fine and commercial graphic
arts. He contributed to the growth of various artistic
movements within the United States and influenced developments
in illustration and layout practices in the book and periodical
arts. He did not restrict himself to a narrow range of
styles, and his body of work, including his publishers’ bindings,
shows him to be one of the more diverse artists of his
(J. Lane, 1911)
was born July 10, 1868 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father,
who encouraged him towards an artistic career, died when
he was only eleven, forcing his family to relocate to northern
Michigan. He dropped out of school at the age of 14 and
began to learn the printing trade at the local newspaper,
the Iron Ore. At 17 he moved to Chicago with the hopes
of gaining experience and saving for art school. Unsuccessful
in this first attempt, he returned to Michigan, but with
the encouragement of his employer George Newett he went
back to Chicago a year later and eventually found a steady
position as a compositor and illustrator for the printing
company Knight and Leonard. In 1889, he left the company
to become a freelance artist.
In his early freelance period Bradley worked on commissions in a number of periodicals, advertisements and books. His earliest work reflected his strength in architectural draftsmanship, and he also employed traditional classical and rococo ornamentation. Some of his early commissions were for The Inland Printer, a magazine that hired him frequently over the next ten years. He also created various publications for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
The Romance of Zion Chapel
(John Lane, 1898)
was the rise of the poster movement that established his
reputation (see Poster Style). His poster The
Twins (1894), created for the periodical The
Chap-Book, was considered
to be the first American Art Nouveau poster, and it and
others for this magazine increased his fame. Also in 1894,
following the trend of Edward Penfield's posters for Harper's
Magazine, Bradley convinced The Inland Printer to commission
a monthly cover from him for twelve months, and these covers
also firmly established his reputation as an illustrator.
The Twins and other work
of this period showed the influence of the British illustrator
Aubrey Beardsley. Beardsley's art first came to America
in late 1893 with reproductions of his famous Salome drawings.
Bradley took Beardsley's use of curve, flatness and broad
stretches of light and dark and integrated them in with
his own style. His works, however, usually did not employ
the morbidity and dark sensuality that pervaded much of
Despite his thriving commissions
in Chicago, in late 1894 Bradley decided to move East with
his wife and three children, and settled in Springfield,
Massachusetts, near business opportunities in Boston and
New York. There, in addition to his regular commercial
commissions, he established a private press, which he named
the Wayside Press. He intended for it to primarily focus
on the publication of his own periodical, Bradley:
His Book, but he also produced pamphlets, brochures and books.
Walks in New England
(J. Lane, 1903)
His Book, which began in May of 1896, followed in the tradition
of such art and literary periodicals as the Yellow
Book and contained poems, short stories, illustrations,
art reproductions and advertisements designed by Bradley
himself. It was enormously popular, with most issues selling
out before they left the press. It seemed that he was finding
success in his conscious goal of making "better and
more refined that art which walks hand in hand with business" (quoted
in Koch 125). Unfortunately, Bradley was not as gifted
a businessman as artist, and his desires for the success
of the press and insistence on overseeing every aspect
of Wayside’s production contributed to his downfall.
In January 1897 he suffered a nervous collapse from overwork
and had to leave the press for a period of recuperation.
Lacking backup management he was force to end Bradley:
His Book. When he returned to Wayside he focused mainly
on book and pamphlet work.
During this period, Bradley's style showed a number of influences. In addition to Beardsley, he admired the work of Charles Ricketts and a number of his works confirm this, particularly his design for Stephen Crane's book War
is Kind. From 1995 on, there was more evidence of the influence of Arts and Crafts artists such as Walter Crane and William Morris. Bradley also drew from the poster work of designers Louis Rhead and Eugène Grasset. A contemporary described him as "a sort of Beardsley and Grasset and Crane rolled into one." (quoted in Koch, 109). Bradley was also a particular admirer of Colonial style printing. Colonial or Mission Revival was popular in American architecture during this time, and he was instrumental in its revival in printing and illustration; he used the Caslon typeface, historical layouts and woodblock print style illustrations to mimic what he described as a "typography that literally sparkles with spontaneity and joyousness" (quoted in Hornung, xx)(see pbw01218 back cover for a partial example, or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, not in database).
Euphrosyne and Her "Golden Book"
(H. S. Stone and Company, 1901)
continued to suffer from the strain of his work, lacking
strong financial skills and the ability to delegate. He
eventually sold the entirety of Wayside Press to the University
Press of Cambridge in 1898. Though he regretted the decision,
which placed the previously freelance artist under a two-year
commitment to Cambridge, it did take pressure off of him
and allowed for much-needed holidays and more time with
When his two years were complete,
he happily returned to freelance work. The year 1900 marked
another turning point in his style, particularly through
his regular commission work for Collier's magazine. Collier's decided to improve its visual appeal by hiring artists
to design its covers, and in 1900 alone, Bradley designed
five covers for them. He created these covers in a cartoonish,
playful, highly stylized manner. He continued to employ
and develop this style for much of the remainder of his
career (see pbw01219 and pbw01209 for examples).
The American Stage of To-day
(P. F. Collier and Son, 1910)
In the early 20th century, he also applied his talents to another area: architecture and interior design. The Ladies'
Home Journal asked him to produce house designs, including exteriors, floor plans and interior designs (see Will H. Bradley for examples). The Bradley house series reflected trends in the Arts and Crafts movement, particularly of artists in Great Britain and Austria such as M.H. Baillie Scott, Josef Hoffmann and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
In 1904 he had the opportunity
to produce another art magazine when he created The
American Chap-Book for the American Type Founders. Over the next
several years he moved into work as an art editor and oversaw
layout and design for a number of major periodicals, though
in keeping with his restless spirit, Bradley did not remain
permanently with anyone for long. In 1916 he settled into
a somewhat more regular commitment with the Hearst Organization,
the largest publishing group of the period, and he remained
in professional relationship with them for the rest of
his working life. Under Hearst he did work in publicity,
formats, typographical and art design, and even a short
stint in film work. He retired in 1931 but continued to
do some printing, design and typography until his death
(G. M. Adams, 1910)
his life, Will Bradley was active in book design as a part
of the wide range of graphical arts to which he was devoted.
For books alone he designed well over fifty covers, and
many of these were reused or copied for other titles. They
ranged from plain cloth covers with simple paper labels
to lavish designs with gold stamping or several colors.
As evident in the examples in the PBO database, he employed
all of his various styles for these covers: Art Nouveau,
poster style, Colonial, and his playful late style, proving
himself to be one of the most diverse cover designers in
Click here to search the
PBO database for bindings designed by
Lindsay, M. WillBradley.com <http://www.willbradley.com/index.html>
Bambace, Anthony. Will H. Bradley:
His Work. A Bibliographical Guide. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.
Hornung, Clarence, ed. Will Bradley:
His Graphic Art. New
York: Dover Books, 1974
(in addition to pictures, contains Bradley's notes for an
Koch, Robert. Will H. Bradley:
American Artist in Print. A Collector's Guide. New York:
Hudson Hills Press, 2002.