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SANTA FE – After several years of negotiations, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville was gifted about 7,000 political cartoons and other art by Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist and Santa Fe resident Pat Oliphant in 2018.
“It really amounted to kind of a time capsule of Pat’s work from the … late ’60s until the last drawing he did in 2014,” said university professor Elizabeth Hutton Turner, in a recent telephone interview.
That makes the university the largest repository of his work and his professional papers “and all the elements relating to his career in America and some of the work (including) the scrapbooks his father kept when he worked in Australia,” said Hutton Turner, whose specialty is American and modern art.
Hutton Turner and Molly Schwartzburg, curator of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the university are both friends of Oliphant and his wife, Susan Conway Oliphant, and worked with the couple to acquire the collection.
The library, where the works are held, introduced the collection in a public exhibition which the Oliphants attended and it included a symposium suggested by Oliphant on the future of political cartoons.
“He is very passionate on the future of the genre,” said Schwartzburg.
Conway Oliphant has been working to create a database of her husband’s work, which she estimates could be 15,000 to 20,000 drawings.
“To have a digitized record of that and to make it searchable and researchable and have images associated with every entry and to be able to search it by date and by theme, by subject, it’s an immense resource,” said Hutton Turner.
Hutton Turner spoke of the “line” in Oliphant’s work, which is defined as being able to craft an illustration using strokes of different angles and weights.
“I think Patrick Oliphant is a national treasure,” said Hutton Turner. “His prodigious talent and his amazing skill at drawing, the way he is able to carry our mind and our thoughts in a way that really does cut through a lot of the confusion to bring forward something so clear and so beautiful, I mean there is such fluidity in his line.”
In addition to the cartoons, the collection includes his sculptures – many of presidents – and works on paper, letters, fan mail and hate mail.
“The collection really will provide biographers and other scholars with the core material to understand Oliphant’s impact on the culture,” said Schwartzburg.
The academic interest in Oliphant’s work goes beyond his artistic talent, said Hutton Turner.
“Not only because he is a terrific artist, a terrific draftsman, a terrific caricaturist, satirist and of course journalist, it’s also that his commentary is a marvelous resource, primary resource for those studying the history of the presidency, studying the history of American elections, studying various issues like that.”