Macculloch Hall Historical Museum holds the largest single collection of Thomas Nast’s original works in the United States. Acquired by the Museum directly from the artist’s family, examples include drawings in both pencil and ink, gouache, paintings in watercolor and oils, preliminary drawings and doodles, and artist and printer proofs. The Nast archives contain his personal correspondence and personal photographs, including the family photo album. While Nast works are always on display at the Museum, the bulk of the collection is available for research only by appointment.
Thomas Nast (1840-1902) immigrated to America from Landau, Germany when he was five years old. With a limited education and little artistic training he joined the art staff of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated as a teenager. After traveling in Italy reporting on the Garibaldi campaign, he joined Harper’s Weekly as a war correspondent during the American Civil War. While working for Harper’s until 1887, Nast created hundreds of cartoons including those of national symbols forever linked to his genius—the Democratic Donkey, Republican Elephant, Uncle Sam, Columbia, Tammany Tiger and Santa Claus.
Thomas Nast moved his family to Morristown, NJ in 1870, believing it to be a safe distance from his political enemy, William “Boss” Tweed of New York. Although his work for Harper’s took him weekly to New York for overnight stays, Nast was a full-fledged resident of Morristown. He was an honorary member of the fire department and supported the efforts of his local lyceum and other charities. Many of his drawings depict his home with Morristown in the background.
Following reversals in both his relationship with the editor of Harper’s and in his personal fortune, Nast was nearly bankrupt. In 1902, accepting the only steady paying job he could find, Nast traveled to Ecuador as a minor diplomat, where he died of yellow fever.
The Art of War:
Today journalists flock to the site of conflicts around the world; today’s technology brings us real-time information from the field. In past wars, media coverage was less technologically advanced, but reporters and illustrators were still able to bring the war into people’s homes.
Thomas Nast began his career as a war correspondent covering the war in Italy in 1860 for The Illustrated London News and New York Illustrated News. He followed Giuseppe Garibaldi’s campaign to liberate and unify Sicily and the southern Italian states, depicting the events in pencil, crayon, ink, and paint. The artist compiled a sketchbook of the campaign’s events, now in the Museum’s collection.
Nast’s experience in Italy made him a leading candidate to cover the American Civil War. When he returned to New York in December 1860, he continued to work for the New York Illustrated News. In August 1862, Nast began his illustrious career at Harper’s Weekly at the age of 22. Sometimes he was summoned to the battlefields to draw what he saw firsthand, while other times he would work from other artists’ field sketches.
Nast’s drawings for Harper’s Weekly were one of the primary sources of war information available to the public. Because the publication’s images were so widely distributed, Nast had a unique opportunity to influence public opinion to support the North. President Abraham Lincoln called Nast the Union’s best recruiting sergeant.”