BY Jennifer Higgie in One Takes | 16 JUN 13
Featured in
Issue 156

The Cubies' ABC

A 1913 children's book

BY Jennifer Higgie in One Takes | 16 JUN 13

[Missing Image]

In 1913, a husband-and-wife team named Mary Mills Lyall and Earl Harvey Lyall – of whom very little is known, although Earl was a minor architect – published a children’s book. Titled The Cubies’ ABC, and dedicated to ‘The Association of American Painters and Sculptors, To Which They Owe Their Incubation’, it’s both a celebration and a lam­pooning of new ideas. The book was inspired by the launch in 1913 of the Armory Show, which was, at the time, the largest exhibition of modern art ever held in the us.

The Cubies’ ABC stars three green-haired, child-like pyramids. True to the spirit of the times – when apparently nothing was what it appeared to be – the Cubies are not actually cubes, and most of the art that is ‘discussed’ isn’t Cubist. Racing through the alphabet on their stiff little legs, they use each letter to explore different manifestations of new thinking: they fling paint about, break and repair sculptures, look bewildered and wage war on convention. It’s amazingly on the button: ‘G is for Gertrude Stein’s limpid lucidity’, ‘P is for Picasso, Picabia and Party’, while ‘M is for Matisse’s Mam’selle Marguerite (With whom all the Cubies are madly in love)’.

On its release, the literary magazine The Dial declared it ‘the oddest little color book of the season’. To celebrate its centenary, the Dada expert Francis M. Naumann has reprinted it in a near-exact facsimile. How strange that it’s now the future, after which, according to the book, all ‘Cubies hanker’. I wonder if it lived up to their expectations?

Jennifer Higgie is a writer who lives in London. Her book The Mirror and the Palette – Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience: 500 Years of Women’s Self-Portraits is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and she is currently working on another – about women, art and the spirit world.