Branson, Missouri is mostly known for music and country-style amusement parks and restaurants. But just 8 miles North of Branson lies a little-known treasure named Bonniebrook.
It’s the birthplace of a phenomenon that captured America’s heart nearly 100 years ago and still remains popular — the impish little creatures called Kewpies.
Bonniebrook was the home of Rose O’Neill, the artist who created Kewpies (named because they reminded her of little Cupids). Touring Bonniebrook is a nostalgic and educational look at the dolls and their creator. It was in that location that the Kewpies began.
Rose was born in Pennsylvania in 1874. Soon afterward her family moved to Nebraska. When she was 14 she entered a children’s art contest. At first, the judges doubted the work had been done by a child, but when they were convinced it was true, Rose won.
In 1893, when Rose was 19, her family moved to a two-room cabin in Missouri’s Ozark Hills. Before long, though, she moved to New York to pursue her art career. She brought 60 drawings with her and within three months had sold all of them.
She became an illustrator for novels and children’s books. She also illustrated for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and the Saturday Evening Post. She drew an amazing 700 cartoons while on staff for the humor magazine Puck.
With the earnings Rose sent back home to her father, Bonniebrook was converted into a 14-room mansion. Rose’s art career also allowed her to buy homes in New York, Connecticut and on the Italian Isle of Capri. But her retreat at Bonniebrook was her favorite.
It was there, in 1909, that she had a dream of cherubic little elves bouncing on her bed. She awakened and hurried to her drawing table to sketch the first sweet little Kewpies. That drawing table is still on display today in Rose’s original workroom.
Soon afterward, Rose debuted new sets of drawings, this time featuring the Kewpies. Ladies’ Home Journal was the first magazine to carry them. She then drew ads for Jell-O, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Lifebuoy and Oxydol, all featuring the sweet little Kewpies.
The public became fascinated with the Kewpie drawings and before long dolls became available. WWI soldiers carried them for good luck. Plump, pixie-like Kewpies were given at fairs and amusement parks. They were made into figurines. All forms became and remain collectible.
Kewpie collector societies still exist worldwide and meet for yearly conventions in Missouri.
Rose spent her final years at Bonniebrook and passed away in 1944. The home was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tours are offered from April to November. After viewing the home and hearing Rose’s story, visitors can roam the expansive grounds, past gardens and tree-lined pathways towards a waterfall and the bubbling brook that inspired the property’s name.
The family cemetery where Rose and her relatives are buried is located on the grounds, as well as two of Rose’s famous non-Kewpie sculptures, The Faunness and Embrace of the Trees. A museum contains Rose’s original artwork, early sketches, and doll molds. A gift shop offers many Kewpie-related items.
It’s a tribute to the little creatures that were symbols of innocence and love, and to the woman who created them.
Bonniebrook is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free.
From Branson go North on Highway 65 past Bear Creek. Turn right on Rose O’Neill Road and go one mile to the Bonniebrook entrance.
Call 1-800-KEWPIES or visit www.kewpie-museum.com for more information.