‘Picture This’ offers illustration history

Jan 11, 2013
Children’s book illustrations from the collection of Frank Wallace, along with a history of such art, is featured this month at Waldoboro Public Library. Pictured is an illustration by Beatrix Potter from her “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”

Waldoboro — An exhibit tracing the history of children’s book illustration has opened at the Waldoboro Public Library, 958 Main St./Route 220. “Picture This” traces that history from the 12th century — an illuminated manuscript from the Lincold Monastery dated 1187 — up to the 1940s, with images by Dutch illustrator Anton Pieck, for whom a museum has been created in Holland, and Gustav Tenggren, who also designed the sets for Disney movies.

Each image has been created using original books and documents, most from the collection of Frank Wallace, a longtime collector and resident of Cape Neddick. Wallace decided to reproduce the illustrations in a large format and to have them mounted. The images are strikingly bright and alive.

Accompanying the images are panels introducing each illustrator, telling something of his or her background, the influences that shaped his or her style and the influence that illustrator had on others to follow. Howard Pyle, for example, is credited with establishing the American Golden Age of Illustration; his pupils included Maxfield Parrish, Jesse Wilcox Smith and N.C. Wyeth.

The exhibit also traces the history of illustration alongside the history of printing. From the illuminated manuscript, the first piece in the exhibit, it moves to very early woodblock printing where the side of the board was carved; then to an engraver named Thomas Bewick who turned the board on its end; and then to the first experiments with color — a process called chromolithography which appeared at mid-19th century and had a short, pretty unsuccessful run. The exhibit moves on to Caldecott, Greenaway and Crane and the color process invented by Edmund Evans; and finally to the entrance of photography and the turn of the century gift books of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen.

There are some interesting discoveries to be made in a careful reading of the show as well as arresting images to be seen. For example, Gustave Dore was at age 16 the highest paid illustrator in France; Edy LeGrand, at 18, created a book which revolutionized book illustration. Viewers will learn that Beatrix Potter, who drew animals from life, was a farmer who judged Hardwick sheep at county fairs; that A.A. Milne, who created “Winnie The Pooh,” dismissed Ernest Shepard on first looking at his drawings as “a hopeless artist”; or that Lewis Carroll tried to illustrate “Alice in Wonderland” himself and failed. There is a good deal of such interesting anecdote in the narrative that accompanies the exhibit, as well as a pretty solid history of the subject at hand.

One panel introduces the polymaths of children’s literature — individuals such as Potter and Rudyard Kipling who both wrote and illustrated books. One of the exhibit’s polymaths is Jules Feiffer. Asked how Feiffer got into an exhibit which ends in 1940, Wallace explained he is unique in that he took up serious children’s book illustration at age 70 after a career as one of the country’s most beloved cartoonists, after Academy Awards and Broadway awards for plays and screenplays, and that his children’s books are “totally original and brilliant. He’s also a friend and gave me permission to use his work,” said Wallace.

Wallace, who put the show together, explained that it has given him a reason to become more knowledgeable about a subject that has held his interest from childhood when he was given his first “Oz” book. In 2001 he started a virtual bookstore called Childscapes, which offers not only the books from which the exhibit was created but also reproductions from those books. For more information, visit childscapes.com.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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