Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Mysterious Dolgov-Part One

I have written before about the artist Boris Dolgov, dates currently unknown, who contributed to Weird Tales in the 1940s and '50s. You can read what I wrote about him by clicking hereAlmost nothing is known of Dolgov. We might wonder whether he ever really existed. I have comments from a couple of readers speculating that Boris Dolgov could have been Hannes Bok or even Boris Artzybasheff. I'll take those speculations one at a time.

Hannes Bok (1914-1964)
Boris Dolgov and Hannes Bok (nĂ© Wayne Francis Woodard) were friends who worked together on a few published illustrations under the combined name Dolbokov. I suspect that they met in New York City in about 1939-1941. Born in Kansas City but a wanderer in his childhood and young adulthood, Bok had arrived in the city from Seattle in December 1939. That was the same month in which his first illustrations appeared on the cover of and in Weird TalesDolgov's first illustration for "The Unique Magazine" was for Thorp McCluskey's short story "The Music from Infinity," from September 1941.

Dolgov may already have been in New York City when Bok arrived. He may even have been a native. Whatever the case, the two artists had met and had begun collaborating as early as the summer of 1941 when their first joint drawings, published under their Dolbokov name, appeared in Science Fiction Quarterly. The stories they illustrated together were "Earth Does Not Reply" by John B. Michel and Donald A. Wollheim and Michel's own "Path of Empire."

John B. Michel (1917-1968) and Donald A. Wollheim (1914-1990) were active in science fiction fandom in New York City during the 1930s and '40s. Bok (1914-1964) had been, too, in Los Angeles, before moving permanently to the East Coast. Damon Knight (1922-2002) reported that Bok attended a meeting of the New York-based science fiction fan club the Futurians on August 21, 1940. (The Futurians by Damon Knight [1977], p. 53) Those facts lead me to think that Dolgov came out of fandom, too, possibly New York fandom, and that he may have been around the same age as Bok, Michel, Wollheim, and Knight, who was the baby of the group.

Both Bok and Dolgov were acquainted with the renowned American painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966). Proof of that is in a photograph that I have seen in three different places on the Internet. I'll show it again here:

American painter Maxfield Parrish (left) and Boris Dolgov (right) in a photograph taken by Hannes Bok. The date is supposed to have been sometime in the early 1940s. This image is from an unknown original source and has been repeatedly reproduced on the Internet, here for the fourth time at least. The original photograph was presumably taken at Parrish's home in Cornish, New Hampshire. If so, and if this really is a picture of Dolgov, then he and Bok may have scored a kind of coup, for as Susan E. Meyer wrote, "Parrish was an intensely private man, preferring to keep others at a distance at all times." (From America's Great Illustrators [New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1978], p. 115.) There is distance even in this image. In later years, Parrish did not recall having met Bok. Bok told a different story.

Here are the three websites on which I have found the image above showing Parrish and Dolgov together:
  • Notasdecine, June 2009, here.
  • Null Entropy, October 26, 2012, here.
  • Darkworlds Quarterly, January 12, 2020, here.
I suspect that each has simply copied from one of the previous sources, as I have done also. The website Notasdecine shows an accompanying photograph of Bok posing with a painting made by Parrish. That picture was presumably taken by Dolgov. Bok is known to have had art done by Parrish in his possession later in life.

If you look closely, you will see that the image reproduced here has been screened for printing. Presumably, then, this version was originally either in a book, a magazine, or a newspaper. It does not appear to have been scanned from a photographic print for reproduction on the Internet. That tells me that it was mass produced in print, on paper, and that there could be more information on it in that original published source. Now if we can just find the original source. A place to start might be in the writings or collections of  either Emil Peteja (1915-2000), Bok's friend and biographer, or Gerry de la Ree (1924-1993), a science fiction fan and collector and also a Bok biographer.

In any case, if the story behind this picture is correct, then there really was a Boris Dolgov (or variation thereof--you'll get my meaning in a few days), and he was not Hannes Bok. I think you can see that in their artwork anyway. There are similarities to be sure, but it's clear to me that Bok had deep psychosexual problems and that these problems came out in his artwork. That's not to say that Dolgov didn't, but if even he did, they don't clearly show through in his work, which is far more innocent and even has a childlike quality. As some people have already noted, Dolgov's work also resembles that of Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981), who had psychosexual or just plain psychological problems of his own.

So, I think we can fairly say that Boris Dolgov was not Hannes Bok, based in part on the photograph shown above, but also, I think, on the respective works of art made by these two men. If you're okay with all of that, we can move on to Part Two.

Revised and corrected February 29, 2020
Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment