Drawings and doodles by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas now digitized
By Jim Kuhn, Harry Ransom CenterThe Dylan Thomas Collection at the Harry Ransom Center is made up of a wide variety of material types, acquired at various times over the course of years of collecting. One aspect to the collection are his many drawings, caricatures, and self-portraits illustrating the margins of manuscripts, drawn on the leaves of books inscribed and presented to others, and sketched at pubs in the UK and US. Here are just a few of these drawings.
Through a collaborative project that includes the Ransom Center, Swansea University in Wales, and the Dylan Thomas Trust, accessibility to the author’s archive will expand to include a digital collection of more than 6,000 items, opening the study of his literary works and creative process to a global audience. All art works by Thomas himself held by the Center have now been digitized and will be made available online for enjoyment and research as part of this digital collection.
Drawings in Deaths and EntrancesThe Center owns multiple copies of the first edition of Deaths and Entrances, many of which—like these two—are inscribed by Thomas to family and friends, and include accompanying sketches.
Although Dylan Thomas disavowed surrealism as having an influence on his literary work, much has been written by biographers and critics about the extent to which Thomas’s early writings exhibit characteristics of a broad surrealist movement. Despite his own declaration that surrealism was not a factor in his poetry, in the summer of 1936 a young Dylan Thomas participated in the first of the large international surrealist exhibitions, held at New Burlington Galleries.
Officially opened by Andre Breton, the International Surrealist Exhibition opening included a variety of spectacles and sensations to accompany the nearly 400 items on display, one of which was Thomas, walking the rooms and offering boiled string in tea cups, asking “Weak or strong?” as he did so. Many years later in 1952, Dylan and Caitlin were to spend a week in Arizona with the painters Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning.
Drawing of Bookseller Bertram RotaThis depiction of bookseller Bertram Rota cheerfully handing out money illustrates a relationship that Thomas was glad to have. Often experiencing money woes, Thomas was contacted initially by Rota this way:
March 29th, 1941
Dear Mr. Thomas,
In the course of conversation Mr. John Gawsworth mentioned to me that you might not be averse to selling the original manuscripts of some of your poems. I am interested in material of this sort and would be glad to have the offer of anything you cared to dispose of. Prices are not very high but I should hope to be able to send you an acceptable sum in return for a group of manuscripts.
Yours very truly,
Thomas was to respond enthusiastically, and over the subsequent years sold many of his notebooks and other draft manuscripts to Rota. Many Thomas acquisitions made by the Harry Ransom Center in the 1960s were through Rota’s catalogues, and direct offers.
Drawings from Strand Films and the Gargoyle ClubDuring the war, Dylan Thomas made £10 weekly writing documentary screenplays for Strand Films, in their Soho offices at 1 Golden Square. Occasionally working overnights on fire watch from the roof, Thomas worked for Strand alongside Ivan Moffat—son of the actress Iris Tree and the American painter Curtis Moffat. The two often spent time at David Tennant’s Gargoyle Club.
The Center’s Art Collection holdings under Thomas’s name contain many more doodles, cartoons, self-portraits, portraits, and sculpture, including 27 works by Thomas and depictions of Thomas by Michael Ayrton, Robert Colquhoun, Rosa Freedman, Gordon T. Stuart, Oloff de Wet, and Gordon Ziegler. Depictions of Thomas can also be found in the art collections of Zdzislaw Czermanski, Mervyn Levy, Ivan Oppfer, and Oloff de Wet.
Art works by Thomas himself can be accessed on the Center’s online digital collections portal after its launch on International Dylan Thomas Day (May 14, 2021).