He filled the world with wonder.
The author of "Paddle-to-the-Sea" was born on August 2, 1900 at his maternal grandparents' farm in a place called Hollings Corners, Henrietta Township, Jackson County. His parents, Bennett and Lulah Clancy, named the new arrival Holling Allison Clancy.
After Mr. Clancy graduated from Albion College in 1902, he moved his family up north to Au Sable, where he began his career in teaching. Au Sable was a mill town on the south side of its namesake river, at the point where it enters Lake Huron. It was here that young Holling watched lumber schooners on the big lake, and heard the whirring of saws and the whine of planing machinery in the mills. Then tragedy struck; Mr. Clancy suffered a stroke. Unable to keep teaching, he and the family made arrangements to return to southern Michigan in 1908. It was hard for Holling to board the train, leaving a place he had come to love.
Settling Down on the Farm
The Clancys eventually put down stakes at Lulah's parents' farm, back in Jackson County. During this time, Holling's interest in writing and drawing become apparent, and his parents encouraged him to develop his skills. As Hazel Gibb Hinman notes in "The Lives and Works of Holling Clancy Holling," Mr. Clancy bought his son a notebook in 1912, and provided the following instructions:
"Write in this book only your own original compositions, poetry or prose. In each case write the date at the top. You may add illustrations, and may write notes telling the circumstances attending the composition. Keep the book neat and clean. Papa."
Holling used the book to sketch and record his observations of wildlife in a nearby woods. From that day forward, Holling filled many notebooks with descriptions and depictions of his life experiences.
Holling became interested in Indian lore during his early teen years. He was fascinated with the many arrowheads found on the farm, and was thrilled by his great-grandmother's stories of Indians passing through their property, and even spending the night in front of their fireplace to keep warm. He and his sister, Gwendalin, erected a tepee in their woodlot, and dressed in homemade outfits topped by headdresses of red horsehair and feathers. On his 12th birthday, Holling received a pony that he named Beauty and a copy of Ernest Thompson Seton's book "Two Little Savages," a tale of two boys who loved the outdoors. Another volume that Holling enjoyed was "Youth's Companion" by James Willard Schultz, a white man who chose to adopt Indian ways.
Holling also made many visits to Pleasant Lake, about a mile south of Hollings Corners. Undaunted by his mothers admonition that he "never get into a canoe," he built his own vessel and paddled it around the lake.
Life in Leslie
Beginning in the year 1914, Holling attended high school in Leslie, Michigan, staying with his grandparents who had moved to the small community between Jackson and Lansing.
By that point in time, he knew that he wanted to be a writer and illustrator. He believed it was important to experience things firsthand, so he worked at a variety of jobs during his teen years. For two summers, he served as a crewman on the Great Lakes freighter Cetus. On its regular route, the ship visited Duluth, Minnesota, passed through the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, and stopped at Detroit. All the while, Holling made sketches and kept notes which would later prove helpful.
Venturing to Chicago
After graduating from high school, Holling briefly attended Albion College and then left for training at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Around this time, he added Holling as a last name, noting that he wanted to honor his mother's family who had played such a role in his early upbringing.) At the institute, he met another artist, Lucille Webster, whom he later married. Upon graduation in 1923, Holling was hired as a taxidermist and an artist, tasked with painting backgrounds for displays at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Later, he went on expeditions to Montana and British Columbia on behalf of the museum.
While at the Art Institute, Holling became lifelong friends with Henry and Alice Chapman. In 1929, Holling and
Henry began a canoe trip in Chicago and paddled north along the shore of Lake Michigan, eventually reaching the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. After canoeing up the Whitefish River, they made a lengthy portage before coming to Lake Superior. They carried only three modern items with them on their journey: a pot, an ax, and a knife. Lucille and Alice drove up from Chicago, so Lucille could swap places with Henry. The Hollings then continued north following the shoreline of Lake Superior as far as a river leading to Nipigon, Ontario.
A Career Shift
Holling eventually left the museum to establish a successful career in commercial art. In the late 1930s, he began to concentrate on what he liked most--writing and illustrating children's books. Holling and Lucille bought a car and trailer that would become their home and studio as they traveled around North America for the next two years, collecting information for future books. While on that trip, they received a letter from Lovell Thompson, Houghton Mifflin Company's children's editor, asking if Holling might like to develop books for them. The couple traveled to Boston to meet Thompson and discuss their ideas. Thompson liked the idea of a book about a river; Holling left with the intention of writing about the great Missouri.
In autumn 1938, a different idea popped into Hollings head, as he fished in Lake Superior and observed a wood chip floating along the waterway. In an instant, his Houghton Mifflin story shifted in its location from the Missouri River to the Great Lakes. Later in their trip, he and his wife met a Chippewa woman selling fine birchbark baskets. Holling and Lucille shared with her some original Cree designs they had purchased in their travels. In gratitude, she gave them a carving of a kneeling Indian in a canoe.
These events greatly contributed to the development of his most famous work.
A Breakthrough Book
Published in 1941, "Paddle-to-the-Sea" describes the travels of a tiny carving of an Indian in a canoe, crafted by a boy from an Ontario band of Chippewa Indians. During a spring melt, the carving is carried to a river, then floats into Lake Superior. After four years of adventures, including witnessing a forest fire and surviving a harrowing trip over Niagara Falls, Paddle is discovered in the Atlantic Ocean. This was no fairy tale; it was based on scientific fact, acquired during Rolling's years of observing the power of wind and water from the deck of a freighter, not to mention his personal experience of canoeing on Lake Michigan.
As is typical of picture books, the pages were lavishly illustrated with colorful, full-page images. What was unique about Rolling's work could be found in the margins: maps tracing the carving's progress, detailed diagrams (one features a sawmill similar to those from his years in Au Sable), and drawings of wildlife (perhaps using his old notebooks as a source). Because of this innovative approach, "Paddle-to-the- Sea" was named a Caldecott Honor book--an award given to selected authors of the previous year's most notable picture books.
Seeking warmer temperatures, Holling and Lucille moved to a community near Pasadena, California. From that vantage point, he wrote four more regional books: "Tree in the Trail" (1942), "Seabird" (1948), "Minn of the Mississippi" (1951), and "Pagoo" (1957). "Seabird" and "Minn of the Mississippi" were selected as Newbery Honor books, designating them among the most distinguished contributions to American literature for children.
During this period, Holling also worked as a freelance illustrator for Walt Disney Studios. He was later called back to work on the plans for the entertainment mogul's California theme park.
A Lasting Legacy
After a career of rewarding work, Holling died September 7, 1973 from complications associated with Parkinson's disease. Although he lived in California for more than 30 years, he wished to be buried in his native Michigan. Not far from his birthplace is the Nims Cemetery, a small graveyard surrounded by farmland. He rests there on the crest of a hill, surrounded by his ancestors. A modest granite tombstone with the words "Holling Clancy Holling/Part of Him Lives On in His Books" marks the grave.
The story of the wooden Indian is still remembered by adults who read "Paddle-to-the-Sea" long ago. Today's children can enjoy it in a variety of formats. They can read the book that is still in print, or watch a video on YouTube of the carving's travels. They can even visit a "Paddle-to-the Sea" theme park in Nipigon, Ontario.
Many teachers still use this book, as an integrated way to study science and social studies related to Michigan and the Great Lakes. And the Plymouth (Michigan) Symphony Orchestra recently performed a narrated
musical score based on the tiny Indian's adventures, to the delight of fourth graders. Holling Clancy Holling's work truly does live on.
Joan and Ron Hoffinan live near Hollings Corners. Joan has researched Holling for 10 years, and oversees the Leslie Area Historical Museums Holling Collection. Ron is a retired high school biology teacher.
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|Title Annotation:||Holling Clancy Holling|
|Author:||Hoffman, Joan; Hoffman, Ron|
|Publication:||Michigan History Magazine|
|Date:||May 1, 2015|
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