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Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land

  • Kind of Object:
    Book
  • Name:
    Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land

    Word Count: 7

  • Creator (Person):
    Henry RoxJames Laver
  • Year Start:
    1935
  • Year End:
    1935
  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Jonathan Cape Publishing House, 30 Bedford Square, Fitzrovia, London WC1.

  • Language:
    English
  • City:
    London (GB)
  • Introduction:

    The children’s book Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land with staged photographs by the émigré Henry Rox shows anthromorphised fruit and vegetables that think, speak and act like humans.

    Word Count: 31

  • Content:

    Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land by James Laver (text) and Henry Rox (pictures) is an illustrated children’s book. It tells the adventures of an apple named Tommy who meets Peggy Pear, Mr. Tomato and Lady Leek on his journey to Banana-Land. Banana Land is ruled by King Orange. The full-page photographs in colour and black and white depict anthromorphised fruit and vegetables that can think, speak and act like humans. Rox used real fruit and vegetables to which he gave faces and bodies with the help of plasticine. His photographs were sometimes additionally coloured to flesh out facial expressions and other details.

    The British writer, art historian and museum curator James Laver, who had worked in the Graphic Arts Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London since 1922 and as its director since 1938, was responsible for the text. Laver published extensively on the history of fashion, but also wrote plays and novels. He also had contacts with emigrants: his French Painting And The Nineteenth Century (Laver 1937), published in 1937, which brings together many of the paintings shown at the Exhibition of 19th Century French Painting, was dedicated to the exhibition’s organiser, the exiled art dealer Alfred Flechtheim – “In Memory of ALFRED FLECHTHEIM Who died 9th March 1937 ‘Marchand de Tableaux Créateur’”. Alfred Flechtheim had been responsible for the image selection and text editing of the book and in his postscript describes how he organised the exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries and why he always championed French art. (Flechtheim 1937, 114). Laver’s children’s book Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land was the result of another collaboration with an émigré: Henry Rox. Behind this name is the sculptor, photographer and art historian Heinz Rosenberg-Fleck (1899–1967), whose forgotten life and work have been reconstructed in recent years by the photographer Wolfgang Vollmer (Vollmer 2020).

    Henry Rox was born as Heinz Rosenberg into a Jewish merchant family in Berlin in 1899. He studied art history at the University of Berlin and sculpture at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin-Charlottenburg as well as at the Académie Julian in Paris. In 1927, the artist married Johanna Charlotte Fleck, and the two adopted the double-barrelled name Rosenberg-Fleck. In 1929 and 1931 Heinz Rosenberg-Fleck participated in the autumn exhibitions of the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. The art critic Karl Scheffler praised his work in Kunst und Künstler magazine: “A small terracotta by Hans Rosenberg-Fleck confirms the discipline of a talent, which has already been pointed out earlier.” (Scheffler 1931, 102) In 1933, works by the artist were shown at the third exhibition in the Lebendige deutsche Kunst series, organised by Paul Cassirer and Alfred Flechtheim (Scheffler 1933). Rosenberg-Fleck was thus already established as a sculptor with works in terracotta, wood and metal, and ran a studio at 7a Tauentzienstrasse, which was captured in a photograph by Käte Wittkower (Vollmer 2020, n.p.).
    The National Socialists’ rise to power led to a major disruption of the sculptor’s life and work. The founding of the Reichskulturkammer in November 1933 and the associated exclusion of Jewish artists and writers made it impossible for the artist and his wife, who worked as a journalist, to continue their work (ibid.). In 1933 Heinz Rosenberg-Fleck took a private photography course, perhaps in preparation for emigration and in order to expand his professional opportunities. Emigration to London followed in 1934, presenting the now almost-penniless couple with major economic challenges.
    Soon after his arrival, Heinz Rosenberg-Fleck took part in The Exhibition of German Jewish Artists’ Work: Painting – Sculpture – Architecture, organised in 1934 by Carl Braunschweig (later Charles Brunswick) at the Parsons Galleries in Oxford Street. The exhibition featured 220 works by German-Jewish artists (Exhibition of German-Jewish Artists’ Work 1934). On display were Rosenberg-Fleck’s stucco Torso and Nightmare, the Head of P.B., the wood relief Before the Mirror and other small sculptures. It is uncertain whether the artist had brought any of these works (especially the small ones) with him from Germany or whether they were created in London.

    In London, Heinz Rosenberg-Fleck expanded his range of work and the children’s book Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land came into being. For this publication, if not before, Heinz Rosenberg-Fleck changed his name to Henry Rox. This may have been to avoid being identified as a German Jew from the outset. However, Vollmer also suggests that the name Rosenberg brought to mind the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, an association the artist wished to avoid (Vollmer 2020, n.d.). His exile and change of name marked an expansion in his artistic practices: instead of working as a sculptor, in London exile Rox probably worked primarily as a photographing sculptor and staging photographer.
    His anthropomorphic photographs in Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land created a sensation and gave him recognition. Rox was able to draw on his sculptural expertise and knowledge of bodies and their movements in his creation of the humanised fruit and vegetables. The Banana Trumpeter, for example, leans forward to play a brass instrument in a realistic way. Rox’s choice of fruit and vegetables for his characters was crucial: The Banana Trumpeter wears a skirt made of sugar snap peas; The Elephant is composed entirely of turnips, and King Orange’s cape is made of banana peel. Lady Leek is a leek with eccentric hair composed of roots and wears a floor-length green dress made of leek leaves.
    The press reacted enthusiastically, and quotations from the reviews are printed on the spine of the book: News Chronicle praised above all the illustrations: “But the surprise is in the enchanting illustrations. The artist, ‘Mr. Henry Rox’, has photographed, in colour, models of the little people of the story made out of fruit and plasticine.” The Glasgow Herald wrote: “Fresh fruit and plasticine have been cunningly combined and photographed by Henry Rox (who has another and better-known name among sculptors), and the most surprising figures result – Tommy Apple, Peggy Pear, Mr. Tomato, and Lady Leek, the last an ash blonde in flowing green robe. […] Perhaps the elephant, of the carrot tribe, is Henry Rox’s greatest triumph.”
    Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land was translated into Dutch in the year of publication (Verlag J. Boucher), and in 1936 the publisher Jonathan Cape released the follow-up volume Tommy Apple and Peggy Pear. Laver and Rox’s books were produced in a sophisticated literary environment: Jonathan Cape, founded in 1921, published renowned English-language literature, from Robert Frost to James Joyce and Christopher Isherwood (Howard 1971).

    In 1938, Henry and Lotte Rox emigrated to the United States, where the artist accepted a position at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, a liberal-arts-college for women not far from Boston, as a lecturer, and later as a professor of sculpture (Vollmer 2020). Rox taught for decades, but also continued his sculptural work, exhibiting continuously from 1940. He published his photographs in Life, Vogue and Coronet magazines. For the film Strike Up the Band (1940, directed by Busby Berkeley), he designed an orchestral scene in which fruits play the instruments. An article on the film remarked: “For seven years he [Rox] has been making humans and animals out of the vegetable kingdom and photographing them. Magazines have used his creations for illustrations and even covers. He has had his work in books, his next being a set of circus animals made of nothing but bananas. Now he lands his art in the movies for a scene in ‘Strike Up the Band.’ The scene has Mickey Rooney showing Judy Garland how he would arrange a school orchestra, moving fruit into place. As a fantasy, the fruit becomes an orchestra, animated by machinery. Violonists made of oranges play instruments made of pear halves. Avocado halves are cellos. The red apple cheeks of a trumpeter puff. A kettle drummer with plum head beats upon grapefruit halves with drumsticks made of cherries on toothpicks.” (Anonymous 1940)
    The next book by Rox mentioned in the review was Banana Circus, published with Margaret Fisher (text) in 1940 by G. Putman’s Sons in New York.
    From the 1950s to the 1970s, photographs by Henry Rox were distributed in Germany as postcards (“Rox-Karte”), including motifs from Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land.

    Word Count: 1351

  • Signature Image:
    John Laver (text), and Henry Rox (pictures). Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land. Jonathan Cape, 1935, cover (METROMOD Archive).
  • Media:
    John Laver (text), and Henry Rox (pictures). Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land. Jonathan Cape, 1935, title page (METROMOD Archive).
    Henry Rox, Mr. Tomato, in Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land. Jonathan Cape, 1935 (METROMOD Archive).
    Henry Rox, Lady Leek, in Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land. Jonathan Cape, 1935 (METROMOD Archive).
    Henry Rox, The Banana Trumpeter, in Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land. Jonathan Cape, 1935 (METROMOD Archive).
    Henry Rox, King Orange, in Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land. Jonathan Cape, 1935 (METROMOD Archive).
    Henry Rox, Every day Tommy went fishing, in Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land. Jonathan Cape, 1935 (METROMOD Archive).
    Henry Rox, The Elephant, in Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land. Jonathan Cape, 1935 (METROMOD Archive).
    Advertisement for Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land by James Laver and Henry Rox in The Observer, 17 November 1935, p. 6 (Photo: Private Archive).
    Advertisement for Tommy Apple and Peggy Pear by James Laver and Henry Rox in The Manchester Guardian, 27 November 1936, p. 7 (Photo: Private Archive).
    Article on Henry Rox’s contribution to the film Strike Up the Band (1940) in Abbeville Progress, 12 October 1940, p. 2 (Photo: Private Archive).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Anonymous. “He Makes Humans Out of Vegetables.” The Brooklyn Eagle, 14 July 1940, p. 40.

    Exhibition of German-Jewish Artists’ Work: Painting – Sculpture – Architecture, exh. cat. Parsons Galleries, London, 1934.

    Fisher, Margaret (text), and Henry Rox (pictures). Banana Circus. G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1940.

    Howard, Michael Spencer. Jonathan Cape, Publisher: Herbert Jonathan Cape, G. Wren Howard. Jonathan Cape, 1971.

    Laver, John (text), and Henry Rox (pictures). Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land. Jonathan Cape, 1935.

    Laver, John (text), and Henry Rox (pictures). Tommy Apple and Peggy Pear. Jonathan Cape, 1936.

    Scheffler, Karl [K. Sch.]. “Kunstausstellungen.” Kunst und Künstler. Illustrierte Monatsschrift für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, vol. 30, 1931, pp. 148–152.

    Scheffler, Karl [K. Sch.]. “Lebendige deutsche Kunst.” Kunst und Künstler. Illustrierte Monatsschrift für Kunst und Kunstgewerbe, vol. 32, 1933, pp. 102–103.

    Vollmer, Wolfgang. “Henry Rox Revue. Annäherungen an ein fotografisches Werk und eine biografische Skizze / Approaches to a photographic oeuvre and biographical sketch.” Idem. Henry Rox Revue. Fotografie / Photography 1935–1955, Fotohof edition, 2020, n.p.

    Word Count: 154

  • Archives and Sources:

    Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Archives & Special Collections, Henry Rox Papers.

    Word Count: 12

  • Author:
    Burcu Dogramaci
  • Metropolis:
    London
  • Entry in process:
    no
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Tommy Apple and his Adventures in Banana-Land." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/1470/object/5140-11267243, last modified: 20-06-2021.
  • Exhibition of German Jewish Artists’ Work: Painting – Sculpture – Architecture
    Exhibition

    The Exhibition of German Jewish Artists’ Work was organised in 1934 by Carl Braunschweig at the Parsons Galleries in Oxford Street and featured 220 works by German Jewish artists.

    Word Count: 27

    Advertisement “An Exhibition of Works of Art By German Jewish Artists” in The Observer 10 June 1934, p. 14 (Photo: Private Archive).
    Private Wire. “Our London Correspondence.” The Manchester Guardian, 6 June 1934, p. 10 (Photo: Private Archive).
    London
    Henry Rox
    PhotographerSculptor

    Henry Rox was a German émigré sculptor and photographer who, in 1938, arrived in New York with his wife, the journalist and art historian Lotte Rox (née Charlotte Fleck), after an initial exile in London. Besides his work as a sculptor, he began creating humorous anthropomorphised fruit and vegetable photographs.

    Word Count: 50

    Portrait of Henry Rox published in Life, June 1941, pp. 11 (Photo: Helene Roth).
    Cover of Banana Circus by Henry Rox and Margaret Fisher (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1940).Inside view of Banana fakir Bim in Banana Circus by Henry Rox and Margaret Fisher (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1940).Inside view of strong Banana man Tim in Banana Circus by Henry Rox and Margaret Fisher (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1940).Henry Rox fruit and vegetable photo models published in "Speaking of Pictures ... These Are Table-Top Photographs.“ Life, 18. November 1940, pp. 12–13 (Photo: Helene Roth).“Speaking of Pictures … Fruit Figures Make A New Kind Of Cartoon Strip.” Life, June 1941, pp. 10–11 (Photo: Helene Roth).“Sculpture you could eat.” Detroit Free Press, 17 December 1944, pp. 18–19 (Photo: Helene Roth).“Sculpture you could eat.” Detroit Free Press, 17 December 1944, pp. 20–21 (Photo: Helene Roth).Cover photo by Henry Fox for Family Circle, February 1958 (Photo: Helene Roth).Postcard with fruit and vegetable sculpture by Henry Rox. Rox Karte Serie 158/3 (Archive Helene Roth).Postcard with fruit and vegetable sculpture by Henry Rox. Rox Karte Serie 158/6 (Archive Helene Roth).Postcard with fruit sculpture by Henry Rox as advertisement of the vitatonin C drink (Archive Helene Roth).
    New York
    Gerty Simon
    Photographer

    The Berlin photographer Gerty Simon established a studio in Chelsea, London. Her solo exhibition Camera Portraits from 1935 featured a distinctive portrait of the émigré art dealer Alfred Flechtheim (shown above).

    Word Count: 30

    Gerty Simon, Portrait of Alfred Flechtheim, London, c. 1935 (The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections).
    Gerty Simon, Portrait of Lotte Lenya, London, c. 1935 (The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections).Gerty Simon’s business card in London (The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections).Invitation to the private view of Gerty Simon’s London Personalities exhibition, London 1934 (The Bernard Simon Estate, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections).
    London