Among the most collectable of the Macy era Limited Edition Club (LEC) publications are those illustrated by the great American artist, Thomas Hart Benton. While his work for the LEC’s Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath and Life on the Mississippi get most of the attention, his illustrations for the largely forgotten Green Grow the Lilacs may actually be the best.
Green Grow the Lilacs is a play, written in 1930, by Oklahoma author and poet Lynn Riggs (1899-1954). It was performed a number of times on Broadway in 1931. The play was destined to be forgotten, when in 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the musical play Oklahoma!, which is based on Green Grow the Lilacs. Though Rodgers and Hammerstein used a new score rather than the old folk songs in Riggs’ work, the claim to fame of Green Grows the Lilacs comes from the fact that it’s plot forms the basis of Oklahoma!, one of the most popular musical’s ever.
Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) is one of America’s greatest twentieth century artists. He was a leader in the Regionalism, also known as American scene painting, rejecting European ‘School of Paris’ influences and focusing on academic realism using American urban and rural scenes (LEC fans can also see this style in works by Reginald Marsh and Grant Wood). Benton referred to himself as an “enemy of modernism and looked to Spanish artist El Greco as an influence. Looking through the various LEC books which Benton illustrated, one can sense his sympathy for the desperation and melancholy of the downtrodden in rural America, while also marveling at his ability to evoke images of Americana that are indelibly marked in the collective conscience of rural America.
About the Edition
This LEC edition is perfect example of the high standard work of quality one could expect from LEC for decades under Macy. The book just looks and feels right for its content. This book was designed to reflect Oklahoma at a specific time and place, and minutes with the book transports the reader to just that place. However, make no mistake, Benton makes this edition. It is his work here that makes this book worth seeking and owning. The illustrations are just marvelous.
- Published September, 1954
- Produced in Oklahoma
- Designed by Will Ransom and printed under the supervision of Savoie Lottinville at the University of Oklahoma Press
- Illustrated with lithographs drawn on the stone by Thomas Hart Benton
- Lithographs printed by George C. Miller
- Paper made by Curtis Paper Company, “Oklahoma corn” in color
- Text composed in Granjon and Garamond types, with printing done in two inks, black and red
- Canvas boards stamped with a drawing by Benton and the title by Ransom
- Introduction by Brooks Atkinson
- 9″ x 12″, 160 pages
- Edition limited to 1500 copies
- Signed by Thomas Hart Benton