Collecting Delaware Books

The Art of John Moll, 1908-1991

john moll
John Moll, 1934
Photo by John Swientochowski
betty moll
Betty Pool, Moll's future wife
Photo by John Swientochowski

First published in 1995.

Update: May 2009 Exhibition

Sometimes little Delaware is too small to hold the spirits of its greatest writers and artists. We share our affection for George Alfred Townsend (Gath) and Gilbert Byron with Maryland. Artist John B. Moll, Jr., started his career in Delaware, but was better known for his interpretation of the Maryland Eastern Shore.

Moll was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1908. He was interested in art in high school and studied at the School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia after graduation. He transferred to the Wilmington Academy of Art, where he studied painting in the style of Howard Pyle. He probably received instruction from Gayle Hoskins, Frank Schoonover, and N.C. Wyeth.

Local artist John Swientochowski was a year or two behind Moll in his studies at that time. He recalls that Moll also modeled for artists and was, even then, spending time on the Eastern Shore drawing wharves and fishing grounds.

During the Great Depression, Moll worked for the Delaware Federal Writers Project, financed by the federal Works Progress Administration. He made drawings and paintings illustrating Delaware and its history. He was a principal illustrator of the project's book Delaware, A Guide to the First State, which was part of the American Guide Series.

He was also a contributor to The Index of American Design, which recorded American arts and crafts in detailed watercolors.

In 1946, Moll moved from Middletown to Oxford, Maryland, where he spent the rest of his life as a freelance artist. He died February 19, 1991 in a nursing center in Easton, Maryland. Link to Baltimore Sun obit.

A Major exhibit of Moll's work was mounted in 1989 at the Historical Society of Talbot County in Maryland. The black-and-white exhibit catalog shows he worked in oil, watercolor, pastel, pencil, and stone lithography.

He also did historical murals in such places as the Tidewater Inn in Easton, the Talbot Bank of Easton, the Women's Club of St. Michael's, and the Robert Morris Inn in Oxford, all in Maryland. Although he is most famous for maritime art, his mural in the Talbot Bank shows farm buildings and a farm family with their plant and animal harvest.

Moll illustrated two books by Gilbert Byron: Delaware Poems (1943) and St. Michaels, the Town that Fooled the British (1971). He also illustrated Patty Cannon, Woman of Mystery (1965) by Ted Giles.

Finding John Moll art is not difficult: his prints and paintings are everywhere. For example, Bakers Restaurant south of Elkton, Maryland, has several fine prints just inside the entrance and in the smoking section. It is always worth looking at art on the walls of local restaurants and other businesses.

Note in 2005: A few years ago Bakers Restaurant underwent an extensive remodelling. In the process, the wonderful Moll art disappeared. None of the present employees can tell me what happened to it. — JPR

Finding Moll illustrations of Delaware is a little more difficult, but they are around. Besides books and a number of prints, he published note paper with Delaware scenes.


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