Rose O’Neill was a formidable Renaissance woman. Born in 1874, she worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, artist, and writer. She created the Kewpie, which would become the first trademarked household name cartoon character. She was also a champion for women’s rights and suffrage. At the peak of her career, O’Neill was the highest-paid artist in the world.
O’Neill was raised in rural Nebraska, but moved to New York City at the age of 15. Her Kewpie cartoons were first published in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1909. The cherub-faced characters became wildly popular, and just a few years later were manufactured dolls by a German toy company. Kewpie dolls are considered to be one of the first mass-marketed toys in the United States.
The lush little homestead of Bonniebrook tells the story of O’Neill. Despite living in Capri, New York, and Connecticut, O’Neill described Bonniebrook as her favorite place on earth. She is buried on this property along with several family members. There is a museum documenting her artistic career, from the Kewpie to the masterpieces she created under the guidance of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, which she referred to as her “little monsters.”
A reconstruction of her pale green mansion (which burned in 1947, three years after her passing) offers more tales of O’Neill and her magical Kewpies. Her studio is on the top floor, filled with old pin nibs, photos, and sketches that will inspire visitors. The site also includes a trail, secret garden, water fall, and a welcoming group of full-time volunteers that invite you to share in the white magic of Rose O’Neill and Booniebrook.
Know Before You Go
Open 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Wednesday thru Saturday, closed Sunday through Tuesday.