An exhibit showcasing the cartoons, columns and correspondence of James F. Dent opens Monday in the State Archives Library in the Culture Center.
Dent, who worked at The Charleston Gazette from the time he graduated from West Virginia University in 1952 until his death in 1992, is probably best known for his daily humor column — the Gazetteer — which he began writing in 1962. In the years that followed, Dent’s columns were excerpted for use in Readers Digest nearly 200 times, and were compiled in two books, “The Dog With the Cold Nose” and “James Dent Strikes Back.”
Dent’s work as a cartoonist dates back to his days as a student at Charleston’s Stonewall Jackson High School, where his work appeared in the school newspaper, and at WVU, where his cartoons were seen on the pages of a campus humor magazine. At the Gazette, Dent created thousands of editorial cartoons, covering themes ranging from politics and sports to space exploration and celebrities.
“In all, there are more than 6,000 cartoons in the Dent Collection,” said Randy Marcum, a historian for the Division of Culture and History, who compiled the materials included in the Dent exhibit. “There are 62 boxes of them, and each box seems to follow a thread of a different theme.”
Dent was a man of many trades at the Gazette, where in addition to writing columns and sketching cartoons, he was the newspaper’s chief book reviewer and television critic (for which he used the pen name Jay Fredericks). He began his career at the Gazette as a reporter, but soon began working as an assistant to W.E. “Ned” Chilton III, who in the early 1950s was in charge of promotions and special events for the newspaper, but would later become its publisher and leave the job of promotions manager to Dent.
Dent became the Gazette’s editorial cartoonist in 1968. Cartoons featured in the exhibit come from the early 1970s, and include Dent’s take on the 1972 presidential primary races for both parties, as well major sporting events of that era.
“He had a wicked sense of humor, and there were plenty of cartoons displaying that humor to choose from,”said Marcum.
In addition to dozens of editorial cartoons, the exhibit features playbills from the annual Third House event, in which Statehouse reporters parody the foibles, failures and idiosyncrasies of elected officials. Dent played a key role in writing skits for the show. Items of correspondence on display include memos from Chilton to Dent, and a letter from “Dick Tracy” creator Chester Gould thanking Dent for making a trip to Charleston “a real treat. ...It was great! Mrs. Gould and I will never forget it.”
Dent’s newsroom office was crammed floor to ceiling with files of clippings, books to be reviewed, correspondence and cartoons, much of which makes up the Dent Collection at the West Virginia State Archives. After his death, more than 6,000 Dent-produced items were donated to the Archives on behalf of the newspaper by Elizabeth E. Chilton, the Gazette’s current publisher.
‘We still have file after file of Dent’s old-fashioned database,” said Marcum. “There’s more than enough material to have additional Dent exhibits after this one closes in two or three months.”
The West Virginia State Archives Library is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays.