Share story

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri museum is telling the story of the inventor of the wide-eyed iconic Kewpie doll in a new exhibit.

The exhibit on Rose O’Neill, who also was an author, illustrator and suffragist, opened last week and remains on display through Aug. 5 at the Springfield Art Museum. It includes 150 objects, including illustrations, paintings and drawings, The Joplin Globe reports .

“Each of these pursuits are rooted in the singular mind of Rose O’Neill — a woman who created a life on her own terms with sheer will, determination and creative talent,” curator Sarah Buhr said. “The ability to pursue all of her interests, in spite of the strict social rules placed upon women at the turn of the century, is perhaps the most fascinating story of them all.”

O’Neill created the Kewpies, based on the word “cupid,” in 1909 in her studio near Branson, and the illustrations appeared in a women’s magazine. A German factory made the first dolls in 1912, and they quickly became a global sensation.

“She has a lot of fans out there — many are Kewpie fans or fans of her illustrations,” Buhr said. “This (exhibit) is uniting all of those different parts of her life to present her life as a whole.”

O’Neill got her start at age 13, when she won an Omaha World Herald drawing contest. In 1893, at age 19, she moved with a portfolio of 60 illustrations to New York City, submitting drawings to popular magazines and getting hired three years later as the first woman illustrator for the national humor magazine Puck. Over the course of five years, she produced more than 700 illustrations. She also was an author, publishing four novels, a poet and a fine artist, exhibiting at the Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris.

Several of O’Neill’s original Kewpie illustrations are on display in the third gallery, which also features a collection of Kewpie-themed items, including a hat pin, radiator cap, plush doll and porcelain plate.

In her personal life, the twice-divorced O’Neill was a staunch supporter of women’s suffrage, participating in rallies, writing newspaper articles and using her illustrations to advocate women’s rights.

“I was really surprised to find out how progressive she was,” Buhr said. “It shows back in the 1910s the things she was fight for — for women’s equality — aren’t completely achieved yet, and I think she would be out there fighting. In some ways, she sort of paved the way for some of these conversations.”


Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe,