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Remembering Fanny, the Matriarch of our family of artists

Today we celebrate the birthday of the matriarch of our Family of artists, Fanny Y. Cory.

Fanny was born October 18, 1887, in Waukegan, IL. She endured many hardships growing up, including the death of her mother and beloved sister, Agnes, from tuberculosis. By her late teens and early twenties she had become one of the leading illustrators in New York City, a profession dominated by men.

She married a Montana cowboy, Fred Cooney. Fred and Fanny raised their three children on their 400 acre ranch next to Lake Sewell (Canyon Ferry Lake), close to Helena, Montana.

To put her three children through college, Fanny took up cartooning. Her daily strip “Sunnysayings”, published by King Features Syndicate in newspapers throughout America for 35 years, was beloved by young and old alike. Besides Sunnysayings, she also illustrated, and sometimes wrote, “Little Miss Muffet” which was King Syndicate’s answer to “Little Orphan Annie.”

You can learn more about her life as an illustrator and cartoonist here.

Fanny had an incredible imagination. She was also a wonderful gardener. Those two things came together in the imaginary world of fairies. During her years in Montana she began a series of watercolor paintings of fairies which after her death was published as the “Fairy Alphabet.” She considered her Fairy Alphabet her greatest artistic achievement. Fanny painted twenty six watercolors of fairies and wrote rhymes for each letter of the alphabet. These watercolors are now stored for preservation in the archive of the Montana museum of history. They are compiled today in her popular “Fairy Alphabet.” Because of copyright, we can’t show the original illustrations. But this “Dancing Daffodil” painting was not used in the series. It shows the soft watercolor and brilliant imagination Fanny had.

In 1952, Fanny moved from her 400 acre ranch near Helena, Montana, to a small cottage on Camano Island perched on a cliff overlooking Saratoga passage and the Olympic mountains to the west. She called the beach below “Montana Beach.” Her cottage was just across the road and down a long driveway from “Sea Crest Farm”, the farm on Camano where my mother, Ann, grew up.

Fanny welcomed her beloved grandchildren into her home, including my mom, Ann. She formed the “Grunt and Groan Art Club” where each member was encouraged to paint a painting every week, and they often painted together at her cottage.

Fanny continued to paint fairies into her 80’s. Even though her eyesight was failing and hand was a little shaky, they are charming.

Fanny also painted a little watercolor every day, a scene from her window, looking out over the water.

And every day into her 80’s Fanny did pushups and sit ups and read a chapter from the Bible. At night she kissed the picture of her beloved sister Agnes that sat on her dresser.

Fanny passed away on July 28th, 1972, at her daughter Sayre’s home in Stanwood, WA. But her creative gifts, her imagination, and her zest for life live on in her family of artists and creatives.

This October, Sunnyshore Studio is celebrating the life and legacy of Fanny Y. Cory by releasing the second season of “Fairy Sightings”. This short videos were shot at the home of Betty Dorotik, just a few hundred feet south of the cottage where Fanny lived. Here’s one of those videos from Season Two:

If you’d like to learn more about Fanny’s story you can check out this documentary I made in 2017.

My son, Julian and I, spent a couple days of vacation in Montana. Visiting the sights and shooting footage. His middle name is “Cory” named after his famous great-great-grandmother Fanny Y. Cory.

Following Fanny (3): The Vault at Montana’s Museum of History and some concluding reflections

On Monday Julian and I rose early. I took a “spit bath” since our campsite didn’t have showers; Julian held the outdoor spicket on so I could splash myself and laughed at my contortions trying to get clean. I wanted to freshen up because we had a meeting set at the Montana Museum of History in Helena, known as Montana’s Museum. We ate breakfast, packed our tents, and headed to Helena.

Montana’s Museum is impressive. It sits next to the state capital.


We were early so I stopped by the bookstore while Julian took photos and video footage outside. I chatted with Rodric, the Museum Store Manager. When he heard that we were shooting a documentary on Fanny Y. Cory, and that a biography on her life is going to be released in October, he said that they would be interested in having her biography at the Musueum bookstore. He also said that there might be an opportunity in the future to do an event where we show the film and make the book available at the Museum. That was, of course, encouraging.

We had time to take a quick peak in and see the western art of Charles Russell, who was an artist and illustrator based in Montana around the same time Fanny Y. Cory lived here.

Montana's Museum 3

The main reason we were here, however, was to meet Amanda, the Curator of Collections at the museum.

Montana's Museum 4

Amanda led us downstairs, into the heart of the museum. She opened a vault into the room where the Museum’s permanent collection of Fanny’s illustrations (over 200 of them!) are stored and preserved.


She had spread out many of those artworks on the table. We say Fanny’s Sonnysayings, Little Miss Muffett, and many other illustrations I didn’t recognize at all.

The second vault we entered led into a much larger room where many of the Museum’s historic artifacts are collected and stored, and where new displays are prepared. On a table in this room Amanda had set out 5 (or so) of Fanny’s original Fairy Alphabet paintings.

I had never seen these originals before. All I can say is that they’re breathtaking, exquisite. It would be so amazing to see them all displayed together in a show.

Amanda did a great job on her interview, which will be part of the documentary.

After finishing up at the Museum, and finding out that our interview with Jacquey Cooney had to be canceled, we headed back to Redmond.

Here are a few concluding reflections on Julian and my trip.

It was so great at so many levels that Julian and I were able to do this trip together. Many years before we had taken a similar trip. In 2004, Jenny and I and our kids, Mom and Dad, and my siblings April and Jed and their families had spent a week of vacation in Montana.

Just like Julian and I had, we camped next to and played in the waters of Canyon Ferry.

Like Julian and I did, we had enjoyed the colors on the distant hills.

And photographed the moon over the waters.

2004 Dorsey Family Vacation to Yellowstone and Montana 192 (1)

As Julian and I did, we had visited St. Joseph’s church where Fred and Fanny had been married.

And Mom and Dad had even tracked down the owner’s of the land where Fanny’s studio sits and had been able to take a tour of it. I was too exhausted at the time to go with them to see the studio.

Mom and Dad had also stopped at the Montana Museum. They had seen some of the original Fairy Alphabet pieces, and mom had her picture taken next to her grandmother’s photograph.

FYC honoring at Helena State Capital, 2004

They had also visited Fanny’s grave.

Back then Mom’s pilgrimage didn’t mean as much to me as it does now. And I’m sure it doesn’t mean as much to Julian now as it does to me. Time and life has a way of deepening our appreciate of our forebears and of their legacy in our life.

Nevertheless, what a beautiful thing that Julian was willing to go with me, and serve the project as our photographer and videographer. It was a sacred three days we spent together.

Julian’s middle name is “Cory” after Fanny Y. Cory. I can’t wait to see how he lives into the legacy of culture making that is his.

I’m honored to be the grandson of Fanny Y. Cory and that I get this chance to help tell her story. She faced so much suffering with courage, grit and zest; out of death and pain she brought joy and beauty and life. She somehow combined the hard work of ranch life with a continual stream of creative illustrations, bringing joy to thousands daily through the newspapers where he cartoons were syndicated.

And I’m honored to be able to partner with great institutions like the Montana Museum to preserve and share the remarkable legacy of Fanny Y. Cory, one of Montana’s most beloved illustrators.

Fanny Y. Cory Cooney




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