A new show at the Miami Beach Regional Library celebrates author, New Yorker cartoonist, and long-time Miami Beach resident Syd Hoff (1912-2004), best known for the kids’ books Danny and the Dinosaur (1958) and Sammy the Seal (1959). In what would have been his 100th year, Syd Hoff: Finding Home showcases Hoff’s life and work with photographic reproductions, text panels, and dozens of little known and out-of-print works from the curator’s collection, the Miami Dade Public Library Florida Author collection, and The University of Miami library.
A classically trained artist, Hoff explored belonging through underdog characters like Albert the Albatross, Julius the Gorilla, and Grizzwold the bear. The Bronx-born high school dropout cut his teeth as a gag cartoonist for The New Yorker, mainstream magazines, and King Features Syndicate.
Starting in The Depression, New Yorker editor Harold Ross told Hoff to “keep drawing those Bronx types.” Intimate and humorous scenes of outer borough immigrants and strivers were his specialty. Dozens of his cartoons take place in tenement kitchens, tease out family relationships, and take aim at single daughters and convict spouses. Hoff revealed his personal history by including his corpulent parents in just about every cartoon and storybook.
Around the same time as his start at The New Yorker, Hoff drew a biting cartoon series called “Ruling Clawss” under the pen-name A. Redfield for the leftist newspaper The Daily Worker as legions of unemployed Americans starved and demonstrated for better work conditions and pay. His focus was the absurdity of the one percent in light of the dramatic economic inequality. The Occupy movement has embraced many of these cartoons making the history fresh and strangely applicable to today’s political and economic climate.
Hoff’s early work portrays an ethnic, working-class, urban America. His made-in-Miami, post-war, Baby Boom juvenile books, like Danny, take place in more prosperous, suburban settings, much like Hoff’s Miami Beach neighborhood. Hoff’s HarperCollins editor Ursula Nordstrom considered him a genius for his skill producing “good books for bad children.” He was in good company, joining artists Maurice Sendak, Ezra Jack Keats, and Crockett Johnson.
Hoff’s stories, with their Lefty subtext, gave the 60s generation fuel to imagine, explore, and accept The Other. Syd Hoff: Finding Home brings us back to the authority-free appeal of “Danny”, who starts his adventure this way: “It would be nice to play with a dinosaur.”
Dina Weinstein curated ‘Syd Hoff: Finding Home’. The exhibition is on view through October 1, 2012, on the second floor of the Miami Beach Regional Library. To learn more, visit the library’s website.