Cyrus Leroy Baldridge (1889–1977). Untitled self-portrait. 1940. (From the collection of Mrs. and Mr. Jay Mulberry.)

Travel records

Illustrator and adventurer Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge, PhB 1911, found inspiration for his art in his travels.

Early in their relationship, Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge, PhB 1911, and his partner, Caroline Singer, pledged that every two years, regardless of their economic circumstances, they would take a long trip abroad.

In the 1920s and ’30s, Baldridge, an artist, and Singer, a reporter, traveled widely, gathering material for the illustrated travel guides they wrote after returning to the United States. Baldridge later donated many of his sketches, illustrations, and papers to UChicago.

“They wrote beautiful books—some of the great tour books, I think, that have ever been written,” says Jay Mulberry, AB’63, MAT’71. Mulberry cocurated an exhibition of Baldridge’s work at the Special Collections Research Center (through September 9).

Convinced of her son’s artistic gifts, Baldridge’s mother enrolled him in the Chicago School of Illustration when he was just 9. At 18, he entered UChicago, where he drew cartoons for the Maroon and the yearbook, Cap and Gown.

During World War I, Baldridge developed an interest in African American culture that motivated him and Singer to spend 13 months traveling from Sierra Leone to Ethiopia. He sketched memorable scenes and individuals (among them this woman from Sierra Leone), many of which were included in the couple’s White Africans and Black (W. E. Rudge, 1929). In its day, the book was considered one of the best and most respectful accounts of African life.

In the following decades, Baldridge drew illustrations for magazines and books to support himself and fund his travels. He also wrote an autobiography, Time and Chance (J. Day, 1947), and was active in left-wing politics.

Baldridge’s work, Mulberry says, “is definitely realist. … But it isn’t catching all the details. It’s trying to catch the soul.”