Letter to Virgil Finlay

From Clark Ashton Smith

Auburn, Calif.,
May 15th, 1937.

Dear Virgil Finlay:

I was delighted to receive your letter - doubly so since I have had it in mind to write you for some time past. Ever since the appearance of The Chain of Aforgomon with your magnificent and finely interpretative drawing, I have wanted to express my pleasure in your work; and Lovecraft, in his very last letter to me, five or six weeks before his death, suggested that I should get in touch with you.

I appreciate deeply the compliments that you pay my stories. It is no compliment at all to say in return that your illustrations are incomparably the best that I have ever had. In fact, I doubt if any living artist could surpass them. Your work, it seems to me, can take its place with that of the best modern illustrators, such as Sime, Rackham, Harry Clarke, Alastair, etc. It is original and finely imaginative and fantastic with a delicacy of technique that arouses my envy as well as my admiration since I have dabbled a little in India and Chinese white ink myself. The originals of your drawings for Aforgomon, The Black Abbot, and Necromancy in Naat, which Wright was so kind as to give me, are among my prized possessions. I have been greatly impressed, too, by many others of your W.T. illustrations, particularly the ones for Bloch's The Faceless God and Lovecraft's Thing on the Doorstep. The finer the story, the more inspired, it would seem, is your illustration; and yet I must marvel too at the merit of drawings made by you for certain tales of the most inferior caliber.

As for my writing, circumstances have made me very unproductive during the past two years. My mother's illness and death, my father's growing feebleness, and our virtual isolation with everything devolving upon me, are chiefly responsible for my lapse from the pages of W.T. One story, however, has recently been completed and sold to Wright, and I am hoping he will soon turn it over to you for illustration. I have some others under way, and trust that many more of my efforts will prove acceptable to Wright and will be embellished by your drawings. If, during my lifetime, any Eastern publisher should bring out a volume for me, or if I sell work to any of the smooth paper magazines, I shall certainly urge the securing of your services as illustrator. Personally, I don't feel that a story is hurt by appearing in a pulp magazine: but, for inevitable technical reasons, drawings suffer from that medium.

Lovecraft's death leaves an abysmal void for the survivors. One feels too that it should have been unnecessary - that more appreciation and a proper financial recompense for his writings would have served to lengthen his life. It is damnable to reflect that America has either killed her finest artists or has driven them into exile. Poe certainly died from hardship rather than drink; and Bierce and Hearn were impelled to flee the country.

In his last letter, Lovecraft mentioned your sculptures. I hope you will tell me more about them. Though I have always been rather indifferent to conventional sculpture, either classic or modernistic, I have lately become fascinated by the possibilities of three-dimensional bizarrerie. My own experiments in that line have all been made during the past 25 months; and I fear that the number of masterpieces is still rather small! Most of my carvings have suffered from hasty execution, and some from the skimpiness of the material used. I haven't had time to work any of the harder substances apart from one or two pieces of roughly chiselled tufa; but, for the most part, have used certain kaolins, soapstones and schists that are readily cut with a knife. Many of these, after cutting, can be hardened more or less by fire. I am enclosing some photographs of carvings, which you can return at leisure. Keep the drawings, however. The one labelled Warden of the Dead is drawn from a sculpture that I made in rhyolite clay, a very hard, heavy and durable kaolinic substance. The other drawings are of entities that I haven't yet tried to render in three-dimensional form.

With all best regards and wishes,

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