Green Grow the Lilacs, by Lynn Riggs, Illustrations by Thomas Hart Benton, Limited Editions Club

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


Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Slipcase
Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Cover and Spine
Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Cover
Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Title Page and FrontispieceGreen Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Frontispiece
Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Sample Pages with Text and Illustration

Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Second Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Third Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Two page Illustration
Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Fourth Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
Green Grow the Lilacs, LEC, Colophon

4 thoughts on “Green Grow the Lilacs, by Lynn Riggs, Illustrations by Thomas Hart Benton, Limited Editions Club

  1. I have all four of the Benton books, and I shall tell you how I attacked them from Tom Sawyer onward.

    The 1939 Sawyer was in pretty bad shape outwards. I wanted a copy I could buy cheaply and rebind. I started with a book with a Fine interior and Fine page ends which I trimmed. I decided to trim the top page ends and repaint them in a bright yellow. I next rebound the book in a royal blue 1/2 Nigerian spine. I ran the titling in gold followed by the author’s name. I covered the boards in a linen with with a blue tinge. Blue corner protectors were used.

    Two gold rules were placed at the top and bottom of the spine.
    Two raised bands surrounded by gold rules were placed above and below the spine titling. The Club name was placed above the bottom gold rule.

    A green marbled paper was used for end match the painted top page ends.

    The 1942 H. Finn was actually the first book I worked on. I redid the tile paper label wiyh a linen label stamped in gold. This was the first LEC I rebound. It has a black linen label on the spine and is covered in full butternut linen. The slipcase is covered in a full butternut linen.

    I used dark red end pages which matched the only color on the title page.I Used a dark brown ribbon extractor on the slipcase, and lined the case with a velour. I used a black linen label on the rear of the slipcase.

    For Life on the Mississippi I used a dark green 1/2 Nigerian binding with the boards covered in a light brown linen. Dark green corner protectors were used.

    Gold rules were used at the top and bottom of the spine with four raised hubs surrounded by gold rules. The titling is in gold followed by the author’s name. The Club name is above the bottom rule.

    End pages predominately in green with orange and brown thrown in were used. The page ends were marblized in the same colors. I have never liked books with an illustration on the boards so these were eliminated.

    You really have to see this book to appreciate it.

    My copy of Green Grow the Lilacs hasn’t been touched, and probably won’t be since it is Fine condition.

  2. I have good news and I have bad news.

    The good news? I have several of the other LEC books illustrated by Thomas Hart Benton (Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and Life on the Mississippi) and his illustrations for this book are the best of the lot.

    The bad news? The play is simply awful. There is good reason it was all but forgotten prior to being transformed by Rodger and Hammerstein into ‘Oklahoma’.

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