Morgan Dennis

Morgan Dennis (b.1892-d.1960) was an American artist and writer who is most often remembered for his images of dogs. He was born in Boston and attended the American School of Design. He was author and illustrator of a number of books including: Pup Himself (1943), Dog Book (1946), Skit and Skat (1951), Pure Breeds (1953), and The Sea Dog (1958). His illustrations appeared in a number of magazines across the USA in the first half of the 20th century.

Morgan Dennis was involved in producing the poster for Be Kind to Animals Week® for several years in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1932, for example, he designed the following poster featuring a young boy kneeling down to offer a drink of water to his canine companion. Individuals and organizations could order copies of this 17×22 inch poster at a cost of 10 cents for a single copy, six for 50 cents, 16 for $1, 55 for $3 or 100 for $5. Space was left at the bottom of the poster so that local information could be added.

1932 Be Kind to Animals Week® poster featuring artwork by Morgan Dennis. Collection of Robert Penney.

Our Dumb Animals featured new Morgan Dennis poster designs as they were unveiled each year, printing reproductions of that year’s poster design alongside ordering information. The 1933 poster that Dennis designed for Be Kind to Animals Week® was called “Lost and Found,” and features a tender seen of a young boy tearfully embracing his dog, a tender moment of two best friends being reunited.

Advertisement for 1933 Be Kind to Animals Week® poster featuring artwork by Morgan Dennis. Our Dumb Animals, March 1933. Collection of MSPCA Angell.

Morgan Dennis’s poster designs for Be Kind to Animals Week® throughout the 1930s often featured scenes of children and young adults with domestic animals such as cats or dogs. The warm tones of Dennis’s palette further underscore the tenderness of these images. While the message of these posters is timeless, the artist’s attention to period-specific details such as the fashions worn or the model of car driving down the street make these posters treasured artifacts from a previous era of Humane Education.

1934 Be Kind to Animals Week® poster featuring the artwork of Morgan Dennis. Collection of Robert Penney.

1935 Be Kind to Animals Week® poster featuring the artwork of Morgan Dennis. Collection of Robert Penney.

1936 Be Kind to Animals Week® poster featuring the artwork of Morgan Dennis. Collection of Robert Penney.

Morgan Dennis’s design for the 1938 Be Kind to Animals Week® poster is notably different than most of the others he produced for this event during this period. In contrast to the soft, tender scenes of human interactions with their companion animals, this poster draws the viewer in with a bold red background. While humans are referred to in the text of the poster ( “Calling All Humans”) the central focus in this image is on the dog. The absence of a human figure is notable here, an important point that represents more than just a shift in design styles. In this image it is the nonhuman animal that takes centre stage, the little dog stands up on two paws and “calls out” to humans. This kind of imagery is especially significant in animal advocacy campaigns because it can serve as an important reminder that nonhuman animals possess agency.

1938 Be Kind to Animals Week® poster featuring the artwork of Morgan Dennis. Collection of Robert Penney.

In addition to his work promoting Be Kind to Animals Week®, Morgan Dennis is perhaps best remembered for the graphic advertisements he did for Black & White Scotch Whiskey. These advertisements famously feature two Scottish terriers–a black one named “Blackie” and a white one named “Whitey”–having adventures and conversations with one another. The themes of these advertisements reflect some of the broader issues of the time. For example, in a 1943 advertisement entitled “We Carry Our Own,” Blackie and Whitey are depicted walking side-by-side, each with a wrapped parcel in their mouths. Beneath that image is a transcript of the dialogue purported to be taking place between these two canine pals.

Blackie: That shopkeeper was sure glad when we said we’d carry our own bundles, Whitey.
Whitey: He knows what it means to save trucks and tires–for Victory, Blackie!

Beneath this canine dialogue is further text from the manufacturer of Black & White Scotch Whiskey on the same theme, encouraging customers to opt out of delivery service so that the resources that would normally be used (trucks, tires, etc.) could be put towards the war effort instead.

More of Morgan Dennis’s work (including the advertisement discussed above) can be viewed in the American Art Archives.

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