Holbrook, Stewart H., 1893-1964

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Prolific author and journalist, Stewart Hall Holbrook (1893-1964), was well known for works of popular history that covered a variety of topics. A columnist for the Oregonian newspaper, Holbrook also published several books. He described these writings as "lowbrow or non-stuffed shirt history." Born in Vermont, Holbrook had traveled throughout North America with his father while still a child, but was left to fend for himself after his father's untimely death. As a teenager, Holbrook supported himself through assorted jobs, before serving in France during World War I. After the war, he went to British Columbia and found employment in logging camps, but, in his spare time, he worked on articles and cartoons. Holbrook moved to Portland, Oregon in 1923, where he slowly established himself as a journalist and writer, eventually gaining a byline in the Oregonian. His first published book, Holy Old Mackinaw: A Natural History of the American Lumberjack (1938) spent five months on national bestseller lists. Following this success, Holbrook went to Boston and began to write on historical subjects, purposely setting himself apart from academic history and working to resurrect important individuals whom he felt had been neglected. He returned to the Pacific Northwest in the 1940s to head the Keep Washington Green organization, while continuing to write. Holbrook also embarked upon a second career as the satirical oil painter, Mr. Otis. It was through this persona that, Holbrook (who never publicly admitted to being Mr. Otis) poked fun at what he felt to be the pretensions of modern art, first in the pages of the Oregonian, and, later, in a book, Mr. Otis (1958). Most of the fictional Mr. Otis' works were oil paintings, but he also employed techniques of collage and mixed media. Holbrook continued to be active into the early 1960s, before succumbing to heart disease. A retrospective of the Mr. Otis works was held at the University of Oregon Museum of Art in 1994 and a smaller show took place at the University of Washington's Special Collections Division in 2005.

From the description of Stewart H. Holbrook Mr. Otis paintings collection [graphic], 1947-1962. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 427652843

Holbrook was a journalist and freelance historian of Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, whose subjects were the American logging industry, 19th century American reformers and Pacific Northwest history.

From the description of Papers, 1904-1965. (Fort Vancouver Regional Library District). WorldCat record id: 122471411

Standish was the pen name of author Gilbert Patten (d. 1945), who was the last surviving dime novelist. He wrote hundreds of the dime novels, beginning in 1896. Many of his stories encouraged readers to attend college, particularly Yale. The Clarke Historical Library has over 150 of his dime novels. Holbrook (1893-1964) was a writer, painter, and historian from the Pacific Northwest. He wrote numerous books and articles on topics he felt were neglected by traditional, academic historians. Holbrook's papers are at the University of Washington Library.

From the description of Frank Merriwell, pride of Old Eli, 1961. (Clarke Historical Library). WorldCat record id: 45693560

Stewart Holbrook was born in Vermont in 1893 and came to the northwestern U.S. in 1920. He was a lumberjack, writer, and popular historian. His writings focused on Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. He considered himself a lowbrow historian, and his topics included Ethan Allen, the railroads, the timber industry, the Wobblies, and eccentrics of the Pacific Northwest. He wrote also for the Oregonian newspaper, as well as articles for magazines ranging from the New Yorker to Startling Detective.

From the description of Stewart Hall Holbrook papers, 1928-1962. (Oregon Historical Society Research Library). WorldCat record id: 63111160

Prolific author and journalist, Stewart Hall Holbrook (1893-1964), was well known for works of popular history that covered a variety of topics. A columnist for the Oregonian, Holbrook also published several books and numerous articles. He described these writings as "lowbrow or non-stuffed shirt history." Born in Vermont, Holbrook traveled throughout North America with his father while still a child, but was left to fend for himself after his father's untimely death. As a teenager, Holbrook supported himself through assorted jobs (including reporting for a Winnipeg newspaper and performing in a traveling dramatic stock company), before serving in France as an artillery sergeant during World War I. After the war, he went to British Columbia and found employment in logging camps, but, in his spare time, he worked on articles and cartoons that appeared in the British Columbia Lumberman. Holbrook moved to Portland, Oregon in 1923, where he slowly established himself as a journalist and writer, eventually gaining a byline in the Oregonian. His first published book, Holy Old Mackinaw: A Natural History of the American Lumberjack (1938) spent five months on national bestseller lists. Following this success, Holbrook went to Boston and began to write on historical subjects, purposely setting himself apart from academic history and working to resurrect important individuals whom he felt had been neglected. He returned to the Pacific Northwest in the 1940s to head the Keep Washington Green organization, while continuing to write. Holbrook also embarked upon a second career as the satirical oil painter, Mr. Otis. It was through this persona that, Holbrook (who never publicly admitted to being Mr. Otis) poked fun at what he felt to be the pretensions of modern art, first in the pages of the Oregonian, and, later, in a book, Mr. Otis (1958). Holbrook continued to be active as writer into the early 1960s, before succumbing to heart disease.

From the description of Stewart Hall Holbrook papers, 1904-1965. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 39971668

Author of popular histories.

From the description of Stewart Hall Holbrook papers, 1938. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 34422080

Stewart Holbrook was born in Vermont in 1893 and came to the Northwest in 1920. He was a lumberjack, writer, and popular historian. His writings focused on Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. He considered himself a lowbrow historian, and his topics included Ethan Allen, the railroads, the timber industry, the Wobblies, and eccentrics of the Pacific Northwest. He wrote also for the Oregonian newspaper, as well as articles for magazines ranging from the New Yorker to Startling Detective .

From the guide to the Stewart Hall Holbrook Papers, 1928-1962, (Oregon Historical Society)

Holbrook (1893-1964) was a lumberjack, journalist, and popular historian. He was born in Newport, Vermont, but spent much of his adult life living in Portland, Oregon. Holbrook's first book, Holy old Mackinaw: A natural history of the American lumberjack, was one of his most successful works. Published by Macmillan Company in 1938, the book focused on the lives of lumbermen, their work methods, and their culture and folklore. This book spent over five months on the national bestseller list and this success convinced Holbrook to move to Cambridge, Massachusetts in July of 1938, a place he felt was "more fitting for such a prominent literary figure as himself." While back East, he wrote five more books he would call "low-brow history," but he returned to Portland in 1943. He went on to write dozens of books, including the topics of Ethan Allen, the railroads, the timber industry, the Wobblies, eccentrics of the Pacific Northwest, and for over thirty years he wrote for the Oregonian. Source: American National Biography Online, 2007.

From the description of Stewart Hall Holbrook papers for Holy old Mackinaw, 1937. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 612786468

Stewart Hall Holbrook emerged from logging camps to become, in the words of Lewis Gannett, “the only ex-lumberjack who has lectured at Harvard University on American history.” Holbrook, the “Lumberjack Boswell,” was born in Vermont on August 12, 1893. His father bounced around North America, taking the young Stewart with him, until dying suddenly in Manitoba. Now a teenager, Stewart found himself deposited alone on the Canadian plains. He survived with various jobs, including reporting for a Winnipeg newspaper and performing in a traveling dramatic stock company, before serving in France as an artillery sergeant during the First World War. After the war, he bought a round-trip ticket to British Columbia, curious to see the big trees he had heard about. He took employment in a logging camp, and was so enamored with the work and the region that he cashed in his return ticket. He spent the next three years as a clerk in isolated logging camps, while writing articles and drawing popular cartoons for the British Columbia Lumberman at night. His desire to pursue his writing career propelled him to Portland in 1923, lured by “the finest public library in the West.”

He spent the rest of the decade dividing his time between writing stories and freelance articles and the editing work that provided a semblance of a steady income. This precarious career crashed with the Great Depression. “The mss market,” he lamented, “is as bad off as the so-called stock market.” Despite the lean years, he persevered, and was enjoying renewed success by the mid-1930s. He completed his first book during this time, but at least the first three publishers he solicited thought the manuscript warranted only a rejection slip. Finally, the Macmillian Company decided to publish it in 1938. Holy Old Mackinaw: A Natural History of the American Lumberjack spent five months on national best-seller lists. Fortified by the prospect of additional successes, he moved to Boston and began cranking out a steady and swift stream of additional books on a wide variety of historical subjects, establishing himself as one of the country’s most popular historians. He returned to the Pacific Northwest in the early 1940s to head the newly-created Keep Washington Green organization. The nonprofit corporation, grounded in the private forest industry and actively endorsed by the U.S. Forest Service and state government, popularized the problem of forest fire much as Smokey Bear would begin to do a few years later. Out of his work for the Keep Washington Green movement, Holbrook wrote Burning an Empire, the first, and for decades the only, history of wildlands fire.

Holbrook purposely set himself apart from academic history and the “timidity and woodenness usual to professors.” He disliked the use of footnotes and presented his work as an alternative to what he saw as the arid and colorless output of “stuffed-shirt historians.” He also wanted to resurrect important individuals neglected by academic history, a goal most explicitly followed in his 1946 Lost Men of American History . If his deliberate attempt to write “low-brow” history sprang from his inclinations, it also had a very practical dimension. Unlike most academic historians, Holbrook enjoyed neither a college paycheck nor fellowships; his income depended upon writing books that would sell in sufficient quantities. Yet, despite his zeal to write popular history, he never abandoned the desire to infuse his work with high literary quality. He never did resolve the tension between the often competing demands of the market and the muse.

He moved back to Portland in the mid-1940s, this time permanently, and continued his prolific production. He also undertook a second career, as the popular oil painter “Mr. Otis.” Through Mr. Otis, Holbrook poked fun at the pretensions of modern art, while individual pieces such as “Someone has been here before us Meriwether” and “I was with Custer said the old man” allowed him to deflate myths surrounding the Little Big Horn and the “overly sentimental cult of the pioneer.” In keeping with his mischievous personality, he never publicly admitted being Mr. Otis, whom he heralded as the founder of the “Primitive-Moderne School” of art. (The final "e" in moderne was indispensable, according to Holbrook. “It makes the word foreign hence fashionable.”)

In the early 1960s, Holbrook suffered a series of incapacitating strokes which essentially curtailed his literary and artistic production. He died from complications of a heart attack in September 1964.

Holbrook published some of his crime stories under pseudonyms. These include: Marcus M. Clark, Chris K. Stanton, Stanley Underwood, Ethan O. Allen and Lee Howard. He also used the pseudonyms, Stewart Hall or Dutch in theater work.

From the guide to the Stewart Hall Holbrook papers, 1904-1965, 1940-1965, (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections)

In 1949, a bright artistic talent in the form of the mysterious Mr. Otis appeared on the Portland, Oregon art scene. Northwest author Stewart H. Holbrook, Mr. Otis' "discoverer," had become acquainted with the artist (a man of "shabby gentility" who "wore neither a beret nor a beard") when they shared quarters at the Press Club's Portland mansion in the 1930s. Rejected for employment by the WPA, Mr. Otis spent the lean years of the Depression bartering paintings for food. The artist and the author continued their acquaintance throughout the 1930s and 1940s, and Holbrook offered Mr. Otis studio space in his own workshop.

In 1949, Mr. Otis was thrilled to see one of his paintings, Fido Can Set Up!, in the Portland Oregonian . He had submitted it to the paper's Salon Arts Independent. As Holbrook put it, "the dam had broken, the Otis cup ranneth over." Before long, Mr. Otis' works were displayed in the homes and offices of prominent personalities such as Bennett Cerf and Bernard De Voto. Although the Portland Art Museum refused Mr. Otis a one-man show, exhibits of his work sprang up all over town, and eventually, all over the country, much to the delight of eager art aficionados and collectors.

Stewart Holbrook provided further details of his friendship with the artist in the 1958 book, Mr. Otis, which displayed several of Mr. Otis' works and included an introduction by Holbrook. The introduction hailed Mr. Otis as the founding member of the Primitive-Moderne school of painting (Holbrook insisted that the "e" at the end of "Moderne" was "imperative," as "it makes the word foreign, hence fashionable"). Holbrook frequently made appearances on behalf of the somewhat reserved Mr. Otis, who was often busy with work.

Most of Mr. Otis' works were oil paintings, but he also employed techniques of collage and mixed media. Historical figures such as Jesse James, James G. Blaine, and Lydia Pinkham appear in Mr. Otis' paintings, while other scenes reference historical, literary, or even Biblical subjects. Genre scenes -- often whimsical, humorous, or even satirical -- also appear. While Mr. Otis' style often defied classification, the artist once stated that "I always paint as I see things."

Forty of Mr. Otis' works were displayed in an exhibition entitled "The World of Mr. Otis" at the University of Oregon Museum of Art in 1994, and, in 2005, the University of Washington's Special Collections Division exhibited several of Mr. Otis' paintings in a show entitled "Pure Poppycock: The Paintings of Mr. Otis."

From the guide to the Stewart H. Holbrook Mr. Otis Paintings Collection, 1947-1962, (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections)

Holbrook (1893-1964) was a lumberjack, journalist, and popular historian. He was born in Newport, Vermont, but spent much of his adult life living in Portland, Oregon. Holbrook's first book, Holy old Mackinaw: A natural history of the American lumberjack, was one of his most successful works. Published by Macmillan Company in 1938, the book focused on the lives of lumbermen, their work methods, and their culture and folklore. This book spent over five months on the national bestseller list and this success convinced Holbrook to move to Cambridge, Massachusetts in July of 1938, a place he felt was "more fitting for such a prominent literary figure as himself." While back East, he wrote five more books he would call "low-brow history," but he returned to Portland in 1943. He went on to write dozens of books, including the topics of Ethan Allen, the railroads, the timber industry, the Wobblies, eccentrics of the Pacific Northwest, and for over thirty years he wrote for the Oregonian.

Source: American National Biography Online, 2007.

From the guide to the Stewart Hall Holbrook papers for, Holy old Mackinaw, 1937., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Stewart Hall Holbrook Papers, 1928-1962 Oregon Historical Society Research Library
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. Stewart Hall Holbrook papers, 1928-1962. Oregon Historical Society Research Library
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. Stewart Hall Holbrook papers for Holy old Mackinaw, 1937. Harvard University, Houghton Library
referencedIn Lewis Gannett papers, 1681-1966 (inclusive) 1900-1960 (bulk). Houghton Library.
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. The story of American railroads [manuscript] / by Stewart H. Holbrook. Multnomah County Library
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. Frank Merriwell, pride of Old Eli, 1961. Clarke Historical Library
creatorOf Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records. Series VI., Editorial Department Files, 1915-1984 (bulk 1948-1978). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. Papers, 1904-1965. Fort Vancouver Regional Library District, FVRL District Headquarters
referencedIn White mss., 1932-1969 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
creatorOf Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records. : Series II., Alfred A. Knopf Personal, 1874-1984 (bulk 1953-1984). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Frank Manny papers, 1890-1955 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-. Letters to Carl Glick. Portland, OR. 1959. University of Iowa Libraries
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. Stewart Hall Holbrook papers, 1904-1965. University of Washington Libraries
creatorOf Manny, Frank Addison, 1868-1954. Frank Addison Manny papers, 1890-1955. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Ward, Lynd, 1905-1985. America's Ethan Allen : production material. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. Stewart Hall Holbrook papers, 1938. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Stewart Hall Holbrook papers, 1904-1965, 1940-1965 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
creatorOf Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records. Series VII., Other Department Files, 1916-1996 (bulk 1943-1969). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Morison, Samuel Eliot, 1887-1976. Packet of materials relating to ice harvesting at Walden Pond (Concord, Mass.) by the Tudor brothers, 1921-1973. Concord Free Public Library, Special Collection
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. [The Civil war ; miscellaneous materials about the American civil war.]. Angelo State University Library, Porter Henderson Library
referencedIn Angoff, Charles, 1902-1979. Charles Angoff collection, 1927-1978. Boston University. School of Medicine
creatorOf Stewart Hall Holbrook papers for, Holy old Mackinaw, 1937. Houghton Library.
creatorOf Stevens, James, 1892-1971. Papers, 1924-1966. University of Washington Libraries
referencedIn Mark Anthony De Wolfe Howe additional papers, 1880-1959. Houghton Library.
referencedIn Lampman, Evelyn Sibley. Evelyn Sibley Lampman papers, 1948-1980. University of Oregon Libraries, UO Libraries
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. Correspondence to Maxwell Struthers Burt, 1938-1943. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn New Yorker records, ca.1924-1984 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Bernard Augustine De Voto Papers, 1918-1955 (inclusive), 1944-1951 (bulk) Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Scripps-Howard Newspaper Alliance. Staff articles, 1949-1967. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. The age of the moguls. Dartmouth College Library
creatorOf Roe, Herman, 1886-1961. Herman Roe papers, 1906-1965. Minnesota Historical Society Library
creatorOf Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records. : Series I., General Correspondence, 1922-1977 (bulk 1946-1966). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Oswald Garrison Villard papers, 1872-1949. Houghton Library.
referencedIn Lewis Gannett papers, 1681-1966 (inclusive) 1900-1960 (bulk). Houghton Library.
referencedIn Chaplin, Ralph, 1887-1961. Papers, [191-]-[194-]. Washington State Historical Society
referencedIn De Voto, Bernard Augustine, 1897-1955. Bernard De Voto papers, 1918-1955 (bulk 1944-1951). Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Holbrook, Stewart Hall, 1893-1964. Stewart H. Holbrook Mr. Otis paintings collection [graphic], 1947-1962. University of Washington Libraries
creatorOf Stewart H. Holbrook Mr. Otis Paintings Collection, 1947-1962 University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adams, Samuel Hopkins, 1871-1958. person
associatedWith Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. corporateBody
correspondedWith Angoff, Charles, 1902-1979. person
correspondedWith Barry, J. Neilson (John Neilson), 1870-1961 person
associatedWith Beebe, Lucius. person
correspondedWith Beebe, Lucius Morris, 1902-1966 person
correspondedWith Bohn, Frank P. person
associatedWith Boucher, Anthony, 1911-1968 person
associatedWith Bread Loaf Writers' Conference of Middlebury College. corporateBody
associatedWith Chaplin, Ralph, 1887-1961. person
associatedWith Cottage Grove (Or.). Public Library. corporateBody
correspondedWith Croft, Lee. person
associatedWith Davis, H. L. (Harold Lenoir), 1896-1960. person
associatedWith DeVoto, Bernard Augustine, 1897-1955. person
associatedWith Doubleday, Doran & Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Dr. E. C. Beck person
correspondedWith Escanaba Daily Press Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Gannett, Lewis, 1891-1966. person
associatedWith Glick, Carl, 1890-1971, person
correspondedWith Howe, M. A. De Wolfe (Mark Antony De Wolfe), 1864-1960 person
associatedWith International Paper Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Jones, Nard, 1904-1972. person
associatedWith Keep Washington Green (Organization) corporateBody
correspondedWith Lampman, Evelyn Sibley. person
associatedWith Lewis, Sinclair, 1885-1951. person
associatedWith Macmillan Company. corporateBody
correspondedWith Mahoney, Jack. person
correspondedWith Maine Historical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Manny, Frank Addison, 1868-1954. person
associatedWith McBride, William. person
associatedWith Mencken, H. L. (Henry Louis), 1880-1956. person
correspondedWith Merrill, R. D. person
associatedWith Nevins, Allan, 1890-1971. person
correspondedWith New Yorker Magazine, Inc corporateBody
correspondedWith O'Brien, Ed. person
associatedWith Oregon Freelance Club. corporateBody
associatedWith Peavey Manufacturing Company (Brewer, Maine). corporateBody
associatedWith Quinn, Karen person
associatedWith Roe, Herman, 1886-1961. person
associatedWith Scripps-Howard Newspaper Alliance. corporateBody
associatedWith Standish, Bill, 1866-1945. person
correspondedWith State Prison of Southern Michigan. corporateBody
associatedWith Stevens, James, 1892-1971. person
correspondedWith Tower, John L. person
correspondedWith Tower, John L. person
correspondedWith Villard, Oswald Garrison, 1872-1949 person
associatedWith Ward, Lynd, 1905-1985. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Washington (State)
United States
Oregon
Washington (State)
United States
Portland (Or.)
United States
United States
Washington (State)
West (U.S.)
Upper Peninsula (Mich.)
United States
Northwest, Pacific
United States
Oregon
Oregon
Northwest, Pacific
West (U.S.)
Subject
American literature--History
Lumbering--History
American wit and humor, Pictorial--Specimens
Pacific Northwest History
Publishers and publishing--United States--History--20th century
Journalism--20th century
Literature
Loggers
Working class
Copper mines and mining
Authors, American--Northwest, Pacific--20th century--Archives
Authors--Oregon--History
American literature--20th century
Parody in art--Specimens
Industries--History
Art criticism--Humor
History publishing--20th century
Arts and Humanities
Dime novels
Capitalists and financiers
Journalists--United States--20th century--Archives
American literature--Oregon--History
Painting, American--20th century
Labor
Artists--Oregon
Visual Materials Collections
Parody in art
Publishers and publishing--Northwest, Pacific--20th century
Lumbermen
Oregon
Publishers and publishing--United States--20th century
Painting, Modern--20th century--Humor
Forests and forestry--United States--History
Forests and forestry--History
Publishers and publishing--History--20th century
Mines and Mineral Resources
Journalism--Northwest, Pacific--20th century
Artists
Authors--History
History publishing--United States--20th century
American literature--Northwest, Pacific--20th century
Lumbering
Forest products industry
Authors, American--20th century--Archives
Journalists--20th century--Archives
Painting, American--Northwest, Pacific--20th century
Forests and forestry
Labor movement
Railroads--History
Publishers and publishing--20th century
Occupation
Historians
Journalists
Painter
Function

Person

Birth 1893

Death 1964

English

Information

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