The Artistic Genius of Will H. Bradley


Will H. Bradley

Will H. Bradley was born July 10, 1868, in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents Aaron Bradley and Sarah Rowland. When Aaron Bradley succumbed to an early death in 1874, Will H. Bradley and his mother transplanted to Ishpeming, Michigan, where Bradley laid the foundation for his illustrious career while working in his first position at a printer’s shop as a young youth. Initially, Bradley collaborated with printing firms Rand McNally and Knight and Leonard, among others. However, after serving at various firms and shops, Bradley broke free and developed an identity as a freelance designer. Later, he became the owner of his own press, the Wayside Press, established in Springfield, Massachusetts, 1895. Bradley ultimately sold the Wayside Press to the University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1898.

Bradley is well known for his Art Nouveau style, adapted enthusiastically from the wave sweeping Europe. The Chap-Book, published in Chicago in the late 19th century by Bradley, exemplified the Art Nouveau flair endemic to Bradley’s designs. Bradley produced his publications in a personal studio, shifting in location from the Caxton Building in Chicago, Illinois, to the Monadnock Building in Chicago, Illinois, and to the Phoenix Building in West Springfield, Massachusetts, among others, as Bradley transplanted when necessary to meet demands of jobs. The Phoenix Building location of his studio soon gained a prestigious neighbor in Bradley’s Wayside Press. The Press published Bradley’s seminal arts periodical, Bradley: His Book, a prominent and transcendent specimen of Bradley’s work. The Wayside Press later moved to Strathmore Mill, Mittineague, Massachusetts.

Bradley’s publications were prolific. Some of the most notable include works published under the Wayside Press and University Press, Cambridge. He designed short pieces for Collier’s and produced twelve issues of the exemplary American Chap-Book. He designed and printed a plethora of books, including personal renditions of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Later in his career, Bradley dabbled in film under the direction of William Randolph Hearst’s direction before forming his own production company, Dramafilms.

Bradley lived a long, prosperous life with his wife, Alice Titania Gray, married August 29, 1888, and his daughter, Fern Alice Bradley, born July 17, 1889. Bradley and his wife remained married until her death in 1951, and Bradley maintained a close relationship with his daughter until the end of his life in 1962 (Lindsay, 2021).

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau, translated to New Art, rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century as a response to the Arts and Crafts Movement and to the Aesthetics Movement. The Arts and Crafts Movement perceived the degradation of design in the book, architecture, and more, and brought a resurgence of Medieval and Gothic design. The inspiration for Art Nouveau, rooted in Arts and Crafts Movement and Aesthetics Movement sentiments, purported that “form should follow function,” or the function of the object should dictate its design (The Art Story, 2021), and that art should be created “for art’s sake” (Gontar, 2006). Art Nouveau also drew influence from Japanese art, or japonisme, with artists especially enamored by wood-block designs. Art Nouveau in Europe boasted numerous iterations of the movement’s name: In Germany, Jugendstil; in Vienna, Sezessionsstil; in Spain, Modernismo; in Catalan, Modernisme; in Italy, Stile Liberty; in France, Modern(e)-Style; and in the Netherlands, Nieuwe Kunst (The Art Story, 2021).

The characteristic style of Art Nouveau applies swooping lines inspired by organic and geometric designs, as well as the “whiplash” curves emulative of the botanical illustrations of German biologist Ernst Heinrich (The Art Story, 2021; Gontar, 2006). Line contours enjoyed a privileged attention and esteem, while colors fell second. In the use of color, shades were often muted and demure, instead serving to carefully highlight and augment the swooping line art (The Art Story, 2021).

Art Nouveau persisted until the First World War, after which the movement disassembled. However, interest in Art Nouveau resurged in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, the characteristic line contours seducing artists seeking to diverge from the endemic aesthetic of the time (The Art Story, 2021).