The artist was born near Manchester and studied at the Sheffield School of Art from 1916.
His initial work in London was in illustrating for magazines from 1923, but in 1924 according to biographer Judy Brook, he was living in Polperro, Cornwall in the home of the publishing house for which he was working in return for board and lodging. The illustrations that he was producing, at this time, were for postcards that have come to be known as CORNISH LITANY POSTCARDS. The distinguishing feature of this 'tourist art cards' is that they carry the following legend: 'From Ghoulies & Ghosties/And long-leggetty beasties/And things that go bump in the night/Good Lord deliver us!'
Why this ditty is connected to Cornwall is unknown, and similar ditties are found in Devon and Scotland and other West Country destinations on boxes, cups and other artefacts. The illustrations are of beastly images, goblins and other endearing though outlandish figures, perhaps referencing some old Celtic horror stories, a bedtime prayer or moral tales for children. Other known illustrators of this postcard genre was one Stanley T CHAPLIN, about whom nothing is known, and the Polperro artist and historian Alice C BIZLEY (nee Butler).
A recent article in the Postcard World Magazine, Nov/Dec 2011 explores the topic of the craft community in Polperro in the 1920s. 'The Cornish Litany is referred to as one of their first and best selling items. The publication boasted of the artwork of Arthur Wragg in their souvenir line of pokerwork and postcards.' It appears, however, that the success of the Frederick Thomas Nettleinghame venture (he the publisher) was fairly shortlived as his business as an art dealer, carried on at the Scala Hall, Torquay, Devon and The House on the Props, Polperro were in receipt of bankruptcy orders under the Bankruptcy Acts of 1914 and 1926.
Wragg went on to be a versatile draughtsman, illustrating such books as Cranford (1947) and Moll Flanders (1948) and biblical subjects such as The Song of Songs (1952) and working for magazines such as Woman's Pictorial. (Long list in Peppin & Micklethwait.)
Pen & ink, black & white studies, book & magazine illustrator
works and access
The best all-round tour of the subject is to be found in Debra Meister's handsome self-published book on the subject, listed above, now in its 3rd edition. She reproduces images from a wide range of artists, historical and contemporary, and postcard publishers who have employed 'the prayer lines' under the banner of the Cornish Litany. Arthur Wragg was only one of a fair few of illustrators who have worked on the series for a number of publishers, but there is no biographical information to tie these artists to Cornwall in particular, with one or two exceptions.
misc further info
Brook, J (2001) Arthur Wragg: 20th Century Artist, Prophet and Jester, Bristol: Sansom & Co Ltd.
Hack-Lane, Susan (2011) 'A New Look at the Old Cornish Litany', Postcard World, Nov-Dec issue on-line
Meister, Debra (2012 3rd edition) A Litany...Cornish and Otherwise;
F T Nettleinghame (1926), Polperro Proverbs and Others, Polperro Press for the Cornish Arts Association, 1926
Peppin & Micklethwait (1983) Book Illustrators of the Twentieth Century