A Little More About Herbert Crowley
by Dan Nadel
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The other day I received the kind of email that I always dream of, to be frankly nerdy about it. Herbert (“The Wigglemuch”) Crowley was the most mysterious cartoonist I documented in Art Out of Time. And he mostly remained so after publication. But two weeks ago a woman in Zurich identified herself as Crowley’s niece and sent along some pictures and info about Crowley and said she’d be in NYC in a week and would I like to meet with her. Well I did, and we met, and, yes folks, there is a Herbert Crowley archive. Not a huge one, and not quite enough to fill out his entire life, but quite a bit, including voluminous sketchbooks, a scrapbook, passports, and more. Now, when I published Art Out of Time, I knew nothing, not even birth and death dates. I know a whole lot more now, and as I learn yet more I’ll update you, my tiny, tiny public.
Crowley was born in England in 1873 and died in Switzerland in 1939. In his time he received some recognition for his paintings and drawings, which were shown in New York from around 1910 until at least 1924 in both group and one-man shows. At the time, he was seen as working in a deco-influenced, slightly esoteric style that some claimed was related to Aubrey Beardsley’s work. But it seems more obviously Symbolist, as Crowley wrote complex symbolic tracts to accompany his images. It appears that he never published any other comic strips or books in lifetime, though sketchbook evidence shows that he never stopped creating picture stories using, yes, “The Wigglemuch” itself. About a year ago I learned that Crowley was a singer, and this has been confirmed. He was a trained musician. He seems to have spent about a decade and a half in New York before heading back to London and then on to Zurich. There were travels inbetween, including a period in the middle east and frequent trips to India. Crowley was deeply interested in morality, spiritualism, and apparently, was a dedicated Jungian. More on that enticing connection later. For now, feast your eyes on these images.