Archive for Friday, January 17, 1992


January 17, 1992


"Children need books, and as Alice so percipiently remarked, `What is the use of a book without illustrations?'"

So begins "Picture-books for Children, A sampling of artists, 1860-1930," an exhibit now on display at Kansas University's Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Jim Heylar, curator of graphics in the Department of Special Collections and creator of the exhibit, attempts to show how illustrations gained prominence within the genre of children's books.

During an interview this week, he said the exhibit focuses on book illustrators and how the artists influenced their successors.

The exhibit begins with a look at works published about 1860 that launched the era of illustrated children's books.

HELYAR SAID that by 1860, some of the best wood engraving was being done "so you get really good stuff coming along."

The engravers' transferred artists' illustrations to wood so the drawings could be reproduced in books.

Examples in the exhibit include William Makepeace Thackeray's "The Rose and the Ring," written and illustrated by him in 1855 as a twelfth-night entertainment for the children of some friends.

Engraver Edmund Evans, who became a leading color printer of his day, is the focus of another portion of the exhibit, sub-titled "Good Evans!"

Helyar noted Evans was born in 1826. In 1865, he began producing "Toy Books."

Such children's book illustrators as Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott worked with Evans and among their creations in the exhibit are Greenaway's "Marigold Garden" and Caldecott's "The Panjandrum" picturebook.

MOVING THROUGH the turn of the century, Helyar features "The Edwardians" in another aspect of the exhibit.

"At this point," he said, "we have got into the photographic field. . . . You don't have anyone messing with your design."

This period, he also noted, was particularly rich in terms of family links among illustrators. Included are works by brothers W. Heath and Charles Robinson, and two of three Brock brothers Charles, Henry and Richard.

Helyar noted the Brocks' style was so similar it was necessary to check signatures for positive identifications.

Another part of the exhibit called "Exotics" shows illustrators who brought a European influence to children's books in the late 1920s.

Hungarian Willy Pogany's illustrations in Isadora Newman's "Fairy flowers: nature legends of fact and fantasy" are included, as well as Miska Petersham's "Miki."

PETERSHAM AUTHORED the popular "Miki" series with his wife, Maud, and drew the illustrations. He also was born in Hungary, in 1888, moved to England in 1911 and to the United States in 1912.

The Miki series, Helyar noted, "represented something of an artist's pilgrimage back to his native land."

"Some originals" shows works by such American illustrators as Palmer Cox and William Donahey. Cox's book, "The Brownies at Home," published in 1893, is featured along with Donahey's "Adventures of the Teenie Weenies," published in 1920.

Two other originals are included picture books by a 10-year-old child. One focuses on football, the other on "Uniforms of the World."

"The Painters" section of the exhibit groups works by Howard Pyle and his students. Pyle was founder of the "Brandywine School" and known as the "Father of American Illustration."

AMONG HIS students represented in the exhibit are N.C. Wyeth, Jessie Wilcox Smith and Maxfield Parrish. Helyar noted Wyeth published some 3,000 illustrations, including 25 books for the Scribner's Classics series that included Stevenson's "Treasure Island" and "Kidnapped," Jules Verne's "Mysterious Island" and Fenimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans."

In the exhibit's "Dominant Images" section, Helyar examines the association certain artists have with particular texts Sir John Tenniel with "Alice in Wonderland," E.H. Shepard with "The Wind in the Willows" and Reginald Birch's renderings of Frances Hodgson Burnett's "Little Lord Fauntleroy."

The exhibit winds up in Spencer's North Gallery with rare novelty books pop-ups, moveables and unusual shapes.

Where shapes are concerned, there's is Peter Newell's "The Slant Book," made in a rhomboid rather than a rectangle shape and "slanted" in other ways too. A series of "hole books" includes "The Story of The String and How it Grew," and pop-ups on display are a 1935 Tarzan and two very old toy theater books.

Helyar said books in the exhibit came from the Department of Special Collection, which has more than 7,000 children's books, almost all of which came to the university as gifts.

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