Jean Droit: a Scout Forever

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‘Brévitas’ by Charles Scharrès and Paul Berlier, published by L’Art Belge (Bruxelles, 1917) and illustrated by Jean Droit.

Already a lot has been documented on Jean Droit, the creator of the two sheet music covers at the beginning of this post. He designed posters and post cards, and illustrated magazines and books. Jean Droit (1884-1961) was a Frenchman and very much a patriot. He grew up in Belgium and always would keep an emotional bond with it.

Illustration Jean Droit pour partition musicale de Charles Scharrès (1915)
‘Déjeuner de soleil’ by Charles Scharrès, lyrics by Edmond Rostand. Published by L’Art Belge (Bruxelles, 1915). Illustration by Jean Droit.

In WWI Jean Droit actively fought at the front, and regularly acted as war journalist sending reports and drawings from the trenches to L’Illustration. He got wounded many times, and received the appropriate honours and decorations. Again in WWII, Jean Droit joined the army to defend his country.

Aquarell from Jean Droit (1914)
‘L’enlèvement des Allemands – Bois de Crévie- Meurthe-et-Moselle, 28 août 1914’. Aquarelle by Jean Droit for the magazine L’Illustration. source: Eric Dyvorne, Souvenirs de Campagne – Grande Guerre 14-18.

Being a lover of nature and forest Jean Droit became a pioneer and fervent defender of the Boy Scout movement in France and Belgium. The motto ‘Once a Scout, always a Scout‘ certainly applies to him. Shortly before his death, at the age of 77, Jean Droit aka Talkative Woolf attended his last camp.

le-loup-bavarde-jean-droitHe wrote and illustrated many books for children and teens on how to be the perfect scout, how to wear your uniform correctly and other essentials of Scoutism.

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‘Marche des Boys Scouts’ by A. Bosc, published by Auguste Bosc (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Jandumon.

For many Boy Scouts at that time, an ‘Indian‘ was a hero and a symbol of the closeness to nature and the great outdoors. Likewise, Jean Droit had a fascination for Native Americans since his childhood and for emulating Natives who roamed the Great Plains of North America.

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Left: Jean Droit in Native American dress (s.d.). Right: Jean Droit in Boy Scout uniform, (1961). Source: Scoutwiki.

In 1929, together with the like-minded Paul Coze, he founded the study group Wakanda. Its goal was the study of the life and art of the Native Americans through exhibitions, performances, camping, games, and outdoor life, and through a lasso club. For the lasso club they weirdly had to change roles and become a cowboy.

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Paul Coze making publicity for the ‘Club du Lasso’.

Paul Coze aka Panther on the Lookout, had started Boy Scoutism in France and tried to introduce Indianism to the great dismay of the Catholic clergy.

In Paris Paul Coze and Jean Droit were inspired by a Yakima chief Oskomon (his name meaning green maize) who, according to his professional partner Molly Spotted Elk, was neither a Yakima nor a chief. Nonetheless Paul Coze introduced Charlie Oskomon into the Parisian high society where he met his patron Mme Clement-Herscher. She would manage his career until 1939.

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Charlie Oskomon at dinner with the Parisian beau monde, 1930.

Mme Clément introduced her protégé Chief Oskomon to Molly Spotted Elk. Both soon started performing together. The handsome vaudeville dancer and singer Charlie Oskomon, who had previously performed as a Show Indian in America, charmed the Parisian beau monde. A delicate marquis remembered that he felt overcome by a deep vertigo watching Chief Oskomon’s athletic body with its virile force and its dramatic and violent expression. Another contemporary wrote: “He dances with the ease of a young savage god. He seems impregnated by a holy light.”

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Left: Portrait photo of the real Indian “Os-Ko-Mon”, a chief of the tribe of the Yakima Indians, who appeared as a medicine man at the Karl May Festival in 1939 Rathen (Graphische Anstalt Gebr. Garloff, Magdeburg) source: http://karl-may-wiki.de. Right: Oskomon in war attire (Picture by Sonya 1924).

Charlie Oskomon with his noble carriage made a great impression on Jean Droit and Jean Coze, and they became friends. He would frequently perform in their Cercle Wakanda, and they  published his poems. These were translated in French by the marquise de Luppé, another one of his female patrons. According to Jean Coze’s wife, Oskomon was ill-tempered and was being kept by Mme Clément and a bunch of other crazy old women. In that way he earned enough to live very comfortably in Paris.

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Chief Oskomon circa 1930 in Paris.

In 1931 Chief Oskomon’s partner Molly Spotted Elk performed at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale, a six-month colonial exhibition held in Paris. This event attempted to display the diverse cultures and immense resources of France’s colonial possessions. At the same time Chief Oskomon would perform at the parallel Exposition de la Mission, organised by his pal Paul Coze.

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Cherokee‘ by Maury Madison published by Salabert (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by MJ. The photograph shows the United States’ Indian Club, managed by Thomas O’Brien.

Between the crackling of the 78 rpm disc you can hear Chief Oskomon singing a sun dance, albeit arranged and orchestrated by the aforementioned Mme Clément who happened to be a composer. Years later in 1960, Jean Droit would meet Charlie Oskomon again in New York where he was working as a doorman.

It is said that Jean Droit was deeply Catholic. All the more surprising to find numerous lightly erotic images in his oeuvre. One of the nicest is this one for L’Escapade by Henri De Regnier. A reader of these pages might remember Henri De Regnier of the Académie Française as the adoptive father of Tigre, another sheet music illustrator.

Jean Droit's illustration for L'Escapade (1941), by Henri de Regnier. source:
Jean Droit’s illustration for L’Escapade (1941), by Henri de Regnier. source: Freddy Daems

To our surprise we found in our archives a small collection of eight catalogue cards delicately drawn by Jean Droit. They were printed by the famous Bénard lithographer from Liège for the elegant fur stores of Charles & Cie.

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Four catalogue cards for Charles & Cie , illustrated by Jean Droit (Liège, s.d.)
Four catalogue cards for Charles & Cie , illustrated by Jean Droit (Liège, s.d.)
Four catalogue cards for Charles & Cie , illustrated by Jean Droit (Liège, s.d.)

Hey, why not some music after this avalanche of images? We find Serge Gainsbourg appropriate: he had an ugly fight in the media with Michel Droit, son of Jean Droit, who as a conservative writer and journalist greatly took offense at the reggae version of the Marseillaise. Michel Droit wrote in Figaro Magazine (1979): “Quand je vois apparaître Serge Gainsbourg je me sens devenir écologiste. Comprenez par là que je me trouve aussitôt en état de défense contre une sorte de pollution ambiante qui me semble émaner spontanément de sa personne et de son œuvre, comme de certains tuyaux d’échappement… “(*).
Of course Gainsbourg reacted furiously in the media. Et cetera !

(*) Michel Droit: When I see Serge Gainsbourg appear, I feel myself become an environmentalist. Understand by this that I instantly find myself in a state of defence against a kind of atmospheric foulness that seems to spontaneously emanate from his person and work, as from certain exhaust pipes…

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