by Khari Saffo ‘15
Denison Museum is full of surprises and connections, you never know what you are going to find. I began to work at the Museum this past Fall semester and have been learning about collecting and cataloguing art pieces. Knowing my particular interest in animation art, Curator of Collections Anna Cannizzo suggested that I take a look at the book The Noble Approach by Tod Polson. I would soon find that the book, about legendary animation layout artist Maurice Noble, had a direct connection to Denison Museum’s works on paper collection.
Maurice Noble is most acknowledged for his background designs in director Chuck Jones cartoons at Warner Brothers Studios in the 1950s. His work can be found in the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons, as well as some of the most famous Bugs Bunny cartoons such as What’s Opera Doc (1957), known to be regarded as the best cartoon of all time by one thousand professionals in the field of animation.1 Noble has a very recognizable art style that consists of the use of simple shapes and distorting perspectives. In The Noble Approach, Tod Polson goes into detail about Noble’s approach to style and designing. Polson discusses Noble’s use of “value” in regards to dark/light contrast and focus. The work of artist Rockwell Kent was of great influence to Noble’s use of value and Polson uses one of Kent’s woodblock prints as a visual aide in his explanation of “Stacking Value”.2 It was here that I noticed the Rockwell Kent woodblock print featured was Twilight of Man from Denison Museum’s collection. It was a wonderful discovery to find that Denison some how was involved with The Noble Approach.
Through my connection to Denison Museum I got the opportunity to interview the author of The Noble Approach, Tod Polson. Tod gave me helpful advice to achieve a career in animation. He encouraged me to constantly draw, make films, and to use the internet as a tool to share my work. Tod explained to me that at a young age he had also been interested in cartoons and animation. While in high school he drew a comic strip for the school paper and experimented with many of his own films using cutout paper animation. In college, Polson studied experimental animation and eventually obtained a job working under Maurice Noble. Tod told me that Maurice was more of a teacher than boss and discussed with Tod his approach to design.
Prior to his death in 2001, Maurice Noble had begun work on a manuscript about himself and his drawing process. He was never able to finish but before he died, he asked Tod to continue his work. During the making of the book, Tod collected pieces of art to include. It took years to acquire all of the artwork used in the book. Many of Maurice’s rough pencil sketches used in the book were from Maurice’s own personal collection. As the word spread about the book, people who loved Maurice’s work and knew him personally donated the use of art pieces. Many of the museums Tod came in contact with were extremely generous; Tod noted that the crew at Denison Museum made a lot of materials available to him that he was not able to fit it all in his book. I was thrilled and engaged to learn that I am now apart of something that helped out in the crafting of a book about the master animation designer Maurice Noble.