The Gerlach Barklow Company produced art calendars and advertising materials in Joliet, Illinois from 1907 through the late 1950s.* Their popular calendars were typically personalized for the businesses who purchased them to distribute to their customers as gifts. Many of the company’s illustration artists were women, some even residents of the local area. One of these, Zula Kenyon, studied art in The School of the Art Institute of Chicago along with her friend and colleague Adelaide Hiebel, also a Gerlach Barklow Company illustrator.





Zula Kenyon (1873-1947)

The Song of the Bluebird, copyrighted in 1924

Calendar illustration for 1926 Gerlach Barklow calendar line

Pastel on canvas

Shhboom Illustration Gallery

The large pastel, The Song of the Bluebird was produced by Zula Kenyon for use as a calendar published by the Gerlach Barklow Calendar Company. Kenyon’s early work for Gerlach Barklow was signed with only her last name because the company believed that customers would be reluctant to purchase images created by women. The Song of the Bluebird was Zula Kenyon’s first commission created for the Bluebird series in the 1926 calendar line.  Depicting a young girl gazing at a bluebird, it has become the most widely recognized image of Gerlach Barklow’s long running series.  Kenyon created many images for the Bluebird calendar series between 1926-1932, and again in 1939.  Kenyon’s friend Adelaide Hiebel created several other Bluebird calendar images for Gerlach Barklow into the 1950’s.  Many of the models used were local children.  They were given a Raggedy Ann doll, and their parents were paid $5.00 for allowing their child to pose for an upcoming calendar.

The concept of a Bluebird calendar series came after the company founder, Theodore Gerlach, returned from a European trip with a print of The Spring Song, that depicted a young girl seated on a park bench and gazing at a bluebird.  Then after Mr. and Mrs. Barklow attended a stage performance of Maeterlink’s, The Bluebird, the idea was born that Ms. Kenyon would create a calendar image along those same lines–an image of a little girl gazing at a bluebird in the springtime. That calendar illustration, The Song of the Bluebird, proved to be Gerlach Barklow’s most successful and popular image ever produced. The 1926 calendar company salesman sample booklet with this image stated, “Miss Kenyon has painted many pictures that recreate happy memories, but in “The Song of the Bluebird”, she has produced a classic destined to bring happiness of thousands, for with a study of rare beauty she has blended an exquisite touch of childhood romance.  To us, the bluebird is a symbol of the birth of spring, coming as the first messenger of the opening of the buds and blossoms”.







Zula Kenyon (1873-1947)

My Bluebird, copyrighted in 1929

Calendar illustration for the 1930 Gerlach Barklow calendar


Bluebird series calendars continued to be produced by Gerlach Barklow for over thirty years and would become their trademark images.  In 1940, Gerlach Barklow touted the Bluebird series as their most famous “follow-up” subject.  Businesses that purchased advertising calendars, would have people coming into their grocery stores, drug stores and dairies in December, asking what the next year’s “Bluebird Girl” looked like, and requesting a calendar.  This was a great early marketing tool for both the calendar company, as well as the local businesses that purchased calendars from them. . . especially at a time when nearly every household in America had a calendar provided by a local business displayed on their kitchen wall. 

The legend that the bluebird brings happiness, shown by the pairing of a lovable young child and the bluebird of happiness was something that parents enjoyed having in their homes.  Often these illustrations would be framed and displayed in a child’s bedrooms. Familiarity of these images allowed them to remain popular for many years.  Even the popular song, Over the Rainbow, created for the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, expressed the bluebird theme in the lyrics, “Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly”.





Zula Kenyon

My Luv’s Like a Red, Red Rose, copyrighted 1914.

Calendar illustration for 1915 Gerlach Barklow calendar

Pastel on canvas

Shhboom Illustration Gallery


Ms. Kenyon began doing artwork for the Gerlach Barklow Calendar Company of Joliet shortly after it was founded in 1907.  Due to the popularity of Kenyon’s illustrations, she was soon given an exclusive contract with the Gerlach Barklow Calendar Company. She worked in a studio at the calendar company in Joliet for around 12 years before moving out west, due to health problems. Zula Kenyon completed more than 200 calendar illustrations for the Gerlach Barklow Calendar Company.  Many were of pretty women holding bouquets of flowers.  Ms.Kenyon continued producing artwork for calendar images into the late 1930’s.


* For more information about Gerlach Barklow see, Tim and Michelle Smith, Joliet’s Gerlach Barklow Calendar Company (Charleston, S. C., Arcadia Publishing Co., 2009)

April 3, 2014

By Tim and Michelle Smith, Shhboom Illustration Gallery