John Barton Gruelle was an American artist, political cartoonist, children's book and comics author, illustrator, and storyteller. He is best known as the creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls and as the author/illustrator of dozens of books. He also created the Beloved Belindy doll. Gruelle also contributed cartoons and illustrations to at least ten newspapers, four major news syndicates, and more than a dozen national magazines. He was the son of Hoosier Group painter Richard Gruelle.
Gruelle was born in Arcola, Illinois, on December 24, 1880, to Alice (Benton) and Richard Buckner Gruelle. In 1882, when Gruelle was two years old, he moved with his parents to Indianapolis, Indiana, and settled in a home on Tacoma Avenue in what is the present-day Lockerbie Square Historic District. The Gruelles made Indianapolis their home for more than twenty-five years.
John was exposed to art and literature at an early age. His father, Richard, who was a self-taught portrait and landscape painter who became associated with the Hoosier Group of American Impressionist painters. In addition to Richard Gruelle, the informal group included William Forsyth, T. C. Steele, Otto Stark, and J. Ottis Adams. Another Gruelle family friends was Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, whose poems "The Elf-Child," later titled "Little Orphant Annie" (1885), and "The Raggedy Man" (1888), eventually formed the name for John Gruelle's iconic Raggedy Ann character. Gruelle later honored Riley's memory in his own book, The Orphant Annie Story Book (1921), written in tribute to Riley's famous poem.
John was the eldest child of the Gruelle family, which also included a younger sister, Prudence (1884–1966), and a brother, Justin (1889–1979). Gruelle's parents exposed all three children to music, literature, and art. John, who likely attended public schools in Indianapolis as a youth, became interested in art, and learned drawing from his father. Prudence trained as a vocalist in New York City, performed in vaudeville theaters, and married Albert Matzke, an illustrator and watercolorist. She also became an author of children's books and a syndicated newspaper columnist. Justin studied art in Indianapolis and New York City and became a landscape painter, illustrator, and muralist.
Nineteen-year-old Gruelle met his future wife, Myrtle J. Swann, in Indianapolis, where they were married on March 23, 1901. Marcella, the first of their three children, was born on August 18, 1902, and died on November 8, 1915, at age 13. The Gruelles also had two sons, Worth, who became an artist and illustrator, and Richard "Dick" Gruelle. Gruelle's widow, Myrtle (Swann) Gruelle Silsby, who remarried for a brief period in 1945, died on April 25, 1968, at the age of eighty-three.
John and Myrtle Gruelle began their married life in Indianapolis and moved with their young daughter to Cleveland, Ohio. By 1910 they had left Cleveland and moved to the Norwalk, Connecticut, area, where Gruelle's parents had acquired a 16-acre (6.5-hectare) property in Silvermine, a present-day historic district and art colony along the Silvermine River comprising sections of Norwalk, New Canaan, and Wilton, Connecticut. Gruelle and his family initially lived in a studio maintained by his father and brother on the former site of the Blanchard Fur Factory until they built a home in the Wilton section of Silvermine. Gruelle's parents, his sister and her husband, and his younger brother also made their home in the Silvermine area. After the death of their daughter, Marcella, in 1915 from an infected smallpox vaccine, John and Myrtle Gruelle moved with their two sons to Norwalk. In addition to being closer to his family, Gruelle's relocation to the East Coast provided him with additional opportunities for freelance work in newspapers and magazines as an artist and journalist.
Gruelle also spent a year in Ashland, Oregon, from 1923 to 1924.
He died unexpectedly of heart failure at his son Worth's home in Miami Springs, Florida, on January 9, 1938, two weeks after his fifty-seventh birthday. His remains are interred at Silvermine Cemetery in New Canaan, Fairfield County, Connecticut. Following Gruelle's death, his widow, Myrtle (Swann) Gruelle, took legal action to secure the rights to his works, trademarks, and patents. She also continued her efforts to promote his legacy through the Johnny Gruelle Company, the Bobbs-Merrill Company, and other commercial agreements.
Books by Johnny Gruelle
Raggedy Andy raised up on his cotton stuffed elbow and whispered to Raggedy Ann, "Less have another adventure! Shall we?" And Raggedy Ann's shoe button eyes wiggled with pleasure and she whispered in reply, "Yes, Raggedy Andy! Less do!" So they tipt...
The Beautiful French doll Babette has been kidnapped by pirates and it's up to a Raggedy Ann and Andy to rescue her. After taking a magical balloon ride to Fairyland, Raggedy Ann and Andy meet a most unusual doll -- a soft flannel Camel with wrinkled...
In the enchanted realm of "My Very Own Fairy Stories" by Johnny Gruelle, whispers of magic and tales spun from dreams come to life. Imagine a world where fairies dance in moonlit glades, where ordinary objects transform into extraordinary wonders, an...