Steven Spangenberg, an architectural salvage expert, is accustomed to finding treasure in the basements and attics of abandoned homes. He’s found stained glass, antique chests, chandeliers and beaded moccasins.
But during a demolition in Tampa, Fla., this week, he paused with delight over a new find: a scrapbook full of cartoons by the late Denys Wortman, cartoonist and Vineyard resident.
“I didn’t even know who he was,” Mr. Spangenberg told the Gazette by phone Thursday afternoon. “I was like, this is a pretty cool collection.”
The scrapbook contains more than 150 cartoon newspaper clippings delicately glued to brown pages. Drawn with meticulous detail, many of the prints feature two of Mr. Wortman’s most famous characters: Mopey Dick and the Duke, two charismatic vagrants, as well as scenes from New York city life.
“I adore a good cry at the movies, but I only got a sniffle out of this one,” reads one caption in the syndicated series Everyday Movies, which for many years was published in 100 newspapers nationwide.
The tattered scrapbook was found on the second floor of a house in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa. The house dates to the 1920s, and contained memorabilia including pin up calendars and beer advertisements.
Bugs ate away at some of the first pages of the Wortman cartoon scrapbook, but the book is in good repair, Mr. Spangenberg said.
Mr. Wortman produced six cartoons a week from 1924 to 1954. For more than a decade he worked from his home in Vineyard Haven, his wife delivering the cartoons to the post office every Monday.
Mr. Wortman had a steady following of Americans touched by his work, many of whom collected his cartoons.
“I do know that people used to cut them out of the paper, and save them in scrapbooks,” said his son Denys Wortman of Vineyard Haven on Thursday.
Of the 9,000 cartoons he created, his son has 6,000 originals, including 2,500 he donated to the Center of Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt.
The rest hang framed on walls throughout the country and make sporadic appearances on Ebay.
Mr. Wortman was the first newspaper cartoonist elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Design. He died in 1958 at the age of 71.
“He was one of the best, during his era,” his son said. “One of the top cartoonists in the country.”
He said Americans related to the unique perspective on life that shone through his drawings.
At least one of his cartoons appeared on the front page of this newspaper. Years later, that issue, featuring a Menemsha scene by Mr. Wortman, was found behind a wall during a house demolition in West Tisbury.