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Wesley Dennis

John Wesley Dennis (1903 - 1966) was born of an English father and an American mother in 1903 in Massachusetts. His father had come to America with a sporting team, met his mother, married her and stayed. Both their sons were artistic; Wesley Dennis dropped out of school at the age of 17, and went to live with his elder brother Morgan in Boston, where Morgan was working as an artist for the Boston Herald. Wesley went to the New School of Design, and managed to make something of a living from his drawing, doing fashion advertising sketches.


Unlike his brother, who eventually made his living drawing dogs, Wesley Dennis’ interest was horses. He had a horse of his own as a child - Bob - which he was only allowed to keep if the horse earned its living. Bob was trained to harness, and helped cultivate turnips. As an adult, Dennis joined the Massachusetts National Guard Cavalry so he could be with horses. The Government would keep members’ horses free of expense, as long as they could be called on in an emergency, so he bought two polo ponies, and gained more experience of the equine form by getting a job grooming the horses at the Camp. Although he was earning a successful living with fashion illustration by this point, he found the process immensely dull. In an attempt to move into equestrian illustration, Dennis contacted Lowes Dalbian Luard, a well known animal and landscape artist, who lived in Paris, to ask if he could be taken on as a pupil. Luard replied that he did not take pupils, but would help, and so Dennis set off for Paris, where he was taught to draw from memory, and studied carcasses in the butchers to learn anatomy.


When he returned to America, he earned money by sketching race horses and selling the pictures to their owners. Whilst on honeymoon with his second wife, he met the Juvenile Editor for the Viking Press, May Massey, who suggested that he write and illustrate a book. Flip was the result. When Marguerite Henry was searching for an illustrator for her first book, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, her first choices, Will James and C W Anderson, were not available. She found Flip in a local library, and so began her collaboration with its artist. Although Wesley Dennis went on to write a few titles of his own for younger readers, he is probably best known for his work with Marguerite Henry, for whom he illustrated 15 titles. The combination of the two was hugely successful and many of their titles are still in print now.


Dennis was a prolific illustrator, and there are over 150 books illustrated by him. I have listed as many of the horse titles as I have been able to trace.


Finding the books: all the books Wesley Dennis wrote and illustrated are easy to find. First editions in very good condition can be expensive. The books Dennis illustrated vary in price considerably; very good first editions of the Dorothy Lyons and Marguerite Henry titles can be very expensive. Most of the Henry titles were reprinted several times, and so it is not hard to find very good reprints for a reasonable price.


Links and sources

The Wesley Dennis website: an excellent site, with unused illustrations, a bibliography and much more.

The Wesley Dennis papers: University of Minnesota

Tumble - biographical information

The National Sporting Library

Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Lisa Catz, Alison MacCallum, Kristin, and everyone else who has helped with photographs.

Short stories


Palomino and Other Horse Stories

World Publishing Company, Cleveland, 1950, 226 pp

With an introduction and pictures by Wesley Dennis. I don’t yet have a full listing of the contents,
but some of the stories included are Chapo the Faker by Will James, Sit Your Saddle Solid by
Mari Sandoz. Other contributors include Ernest Thompson Seton and Ross Santee.

 


 


 



Holiday

Viking Press, New York, 1946, 32 pp


Holiday the pony sees a dog win a blue ribbon at a show, and he decides he
would like one too. After hurdling a fence in front of his owner, he starts a new
career as a jumper.

Flip and the Cows

The Viking Press, New York, 1942, 63 pp, illus the author

Scholastic Book Services, 1970


Flip is scared of cows, but has an adventure with them, nevertheless.  



Flip and the Morning
The Viking Press, New York, 1951, 63 pp, illus the author

Reprinted by Puffin Books, New York, 1977


Flip the colt keeps disturbing Willie the goat’s sleep, but he thinks up a clever way of stopping Flip. 


 



Collections

 

Portfolio of Horse Paintings

Wesley Dennis, with a commentary by Marguerite Henry

Rand McNally, Chicago, 1964, 16 colour plates



Tumble, the Story of a Mustang

Hastings House, New York, 1966, 48 pp, illus the author


A short and charming story about Tumble, a wild mustang, who meets man and
is captured, and then escapes.

Flip

The Viking Press, New York, 1941, 63 pp, illus the author

In the Dandelion Library with I’m Tired of Lions, Viking Press, New York, 1966

Scholastic Paperbacks, 1973

Reprinted by Puffin, New York, 1979


Flip the colt can’t keep up with his mother, but dreams of how he would be able to if only
he had wings.
 


 



Horse Books written and illustrated by Wesley Dennis

About Wesley Dennis


The Illustrated Marguerite Henry

Rand McNally & Company, NY, 1980, 128 pp

Illus Wesley Dennis, Robert Lougheed, Lynd Ward and Rich Rudish


Contains information on the four major Henry illustrators, including Wesley Dennis.

 


 




Flip

Flip

Flip and the Cows

Fllip and the Morning