Secondhand Treasure

Whilst rummaging through some old books and magazines today, I found an annual I bought a few months ago from a secondhand book market (and promptly forgot about). It has the rather unpromising title, Commonwealth and Empire Annual 1955, and is one of those educational children's books that isn't very exciting, apart from these staggeringly beautiful colour plates below, that are the sole reason I bought the book. The illustrator is Neave Parker, who I'd never heard of, but it looks like he specialised in dinosaurs, and sadly died of a heart attack at the cinema. What a talented artist! I love these depictions of the four seasons. Bonus image down the bottom from another book, the School Friend Annual 1962, that I love to bits too.

Hutchings and the Provensens

My introduction to Alice and Martin Provensen was via my sister Jo's Milton Bradley Memory Game (which she still owns!), that I loved so much as a kid. We played it so often I knew every image like the back of my hand, including the lovely little illustrations by the Provensens.

I posted a while ago some scans from a favourite book of mine I've had since I was little, Nurseryland Annual 1970 (doesn't that age me?!), that's illustrated by an artist called Hutchings, who was clearly influenced by the Provensens when you start to compare their textures, fine, sketchy linework, and even the forms of some of their stylised people, animals and architecture. Just who the mysterious Hutchings is has been a topic of conversation on a couple of other blogs here and here, but there's not a lot of information out there. I thought a side by side comparison between the Provensens and Hutchings might be interesting.

Illustration by Hutchings from Nurseryland Annual 1970.

Illustration by Hutchings from Nurseryland Annual 1970.

I don't like to suggest that Hutchings was nothing more than a copycat, because he is clearly a very talented, inventive artist, but there is definitely a relationship between his style and the Provensens'.

Yet you might also say there are resemblances between the Provensens and Mary Blair, and so on it goes; no one lives in a cultural vacuum, and there's nothing wrong with being influenced by your contemporaries as long as your work is still your own. Perhaps though, this might explain why Hutchings is not better known as an illustrator, because his work is derivative of an earlier style compared to Mary Blair and the Provensens, whose trail-blazing work influenced illustrators for many decades to come.

My own work very much references the past, it's deliberate, and I don't disguise it, but I hope there is enough of myself in it to make it unique and relevant. I think one of the keys is to draw influences from a variety of sources, rather than just a few (and not just other artists!), and to go back to the original sources rather than take your influences from someone else whose been influenced by a particular style. That's rather like a game of telephone where the message loses its meaning and integrity as it hops from one to another, and another.

I'm not here to dismiss Hutchings, since his beautiful, magical illustrations had such a huge impact on my childhood. In his defense, here is one of his most glorious pieces from Nurseryland Annual 1970, which beautifully references the textures and linework of the mid-20th century, whilst also using the bright, contemporary colour palette and style of the late-1960s that extended well into the 1970s. Groovy!

Illustration by Hutchings from Nurseryland Annual 1970.

Penrose Annual 1958

This is one of my favourite secondhand book finds this year - Volume 52 of the Penrose Graphic Art Annual from 1958. I bought it from the same market as the King Penguins I posted about a few months ago, & it's in nearly perfect condition! I can't quite remember how much I paid for it, but it was something like $28 - a super-duper bargain. I would love to collect more of these, particularly the late 1930s through to 1960, but they can be a little pricey. One of the best things about this book is that it's stamped on the front endpapers with "Hardwicke Knight Collection". Upon doing a little Googling, I found out that Frederick Hardwicke-Knight was a New Zealand author, photographer & collector who died in 2008 leaving behind a lifetime's treasure trove of amazing stuff. I feel honoured to own one of his books! You can see the man himself & some of his incredible collection here. How interesting!

King Penguin: Woodland Birds

I thought I'd better blog about something other than recipes for a change - it's been food, food, food lately! Must be the nippy winter weather & bracing seaside walks making me peckish! Here's my latest King Penguin acquisition, Woodland Birds. It's in beautiful condition, & is the first one I've bought that still has its dust jacket. Published in 1955, it was one of the last King Penguins to be released, & is written by Phyllis Barclay-Smith & illustrated by Peter Shepheard, who also designed the gorgeous cover. The colour plates are so beautiful, don't you think?

I Hit the Secondhand Book Jackpot!

I've posted before about the June long weekend secondhand book sale. I go every year (they had one in March this year too). As usual, I went with Mark & Stevie, & left feeling like a pirate who'd just plundered the most amazing treasure trove ever! Stevie found this big stack of King Penguin books from the 1940s (all of them $5 or $7.50 each & in pretty good condition) & in a very civilised fashion with no hair-pulling whatsoever, we went through them, picking out favourites, divvying them up so we each got to buy a few. I can't recall all of theirs, but there was one about freshwater fish, another mushroom one, wild flowers, reptiles, one about ballet, children's art, Scottish costumes - lots! Here are mine, with a couple of plates from each. The covers, as you can see, are gorgeous, & the illustrations are as fresh & rich as the day they were printed. What an amazing range of subject matter the King Penguins explore, I think I might have to collect some more - I love them so much! Popular English Art, written by Noel Carrington, illustrated by Clarke Hutton. 1945.

From the Archives: Children's Dictionary

I went to a secondhand book sale yesterday with Mark & Stevie, & this is one of the treasures I bought - a children's pictorial dictionary from about the late 1940s-early 1950s. I love that it's Australian & features some familiar images, such as the galah I included in my montage below & the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Stevie spotted the book first & knew I'd love it because of the incredible endpapers (above). I love the vivid colours & the weird juxtaposition of images.

Mark also found an amazing design book from the 1950s for me - I'll show you some pictures of that one another time. It's nice to rummage at book sales with friends who can keep an eye out for things you'll love!

In other news, I was interviewed for The Finders Keepers blog recently, where I talked a little about my influences & work process. If you're interested, you can read it here.

I Love...Golden Books

Before I get started singing the praises of Golden Books, I'm happy to announce that my contact page has just been freshly installed on my site! Come & help me test that everything's working & in order, by sending me an email. Just come & say hi, & I'll say hi back! I was going to put my info page up today too, but it's getting late & I have dinner to make (vegan leek & "feta" pastries!), so I'll make sure to do it during the week.

Just Like Me, written & illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, 1954

A Child's Garden of Verses, written by Robert Louis Stevenson & illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, 1951

Now, down to business... I bet a lot of you grew up reading Golden Books. I love that they were such an accessible way to get kids reading & appreciating great illustration. Earlier this week, I was working on a picture, & it occurred to me that it was strangely reminiscent of the spine & endpapers of a Golden Book. It was purely incidental, but it just goes to show what sponges we are as children. How the things we read impact on us in such a profound way. Googling Golden Books today, I discovered this fabulous blog, sadly no longer updated, but it's a little gold[en book]mine of mid-20th century illustration. I've posted the merest snippet of what you'll find there, from some of my favourite illustrators, such as Richard Scarry & the amazing Alice & Martin Provensen. I owned this edition of A Child's Garden of Verses & a few of their other books. I wish I still had them!

The Happy Little Handsaw, written by Robert E. Mahaffay & illustrated by Milli Eaton, 1955

The Golden Calendar, illustrated by Richard Scarry, 1956

From the Archives: Art & Industry

I couldn't find much information about Art & Industry, but I can tell you it was a British commercial art magazine that was in circulation pre-WW2, at least until the 1950s. I own twenty-one issues spanning from 1937 through to 1941. With the onset of war, the magazine shrunk from 8x11.5"(20.3x29.2cm) to a slim 5.5x8" (14x20.3cm), but the publishers displayed exceptional tenacity by not only surviving paper rationing, but the bombing of their offices during The Blitz. In the November 1940 issue, they report:

"We apologise to our subscribers for the late appearance of this issue owing to air raid damage in which we lost much valuable property and suffered great dislocation of our organisation. This is not our first loss from the raid, but it merely adds to our determination."

In the December 1940 issue they show photographs of the total destruction of their building & relocation from Leicester Square to Covent Garden.

Unfortunately there are no colour plates in the wartime issues (although fabulously colourful covers, as you can see). The two images below are from September & August 1937 respectively. On the left we have Hungarian wrapping papers, & right, a selection of book jackets by Barnett Freedman (top), Edward Bawden (centre), Eric Fraser (bottom left) & Rex Whistler (bottom right).

Rummaging Pays Off Yet Again!

Well, I set my alarm for an indecently early hour on Saturday morning (& promptly snoozed through it) because it was the opening day of an annual secondhand book sale, held every June long weekend, that I never miss. Arriving an hour later than desired with two friends, we set about struggling through the dense throng of rummagers in the hopes of getting our grubby hands on some coveted treasures. Side note: Coincidentally, the three of us were wearing fair isle jumpers (or sweaters, if you like to call them that) & so inadvertently set a new book sale trend. We're thinking next year everyone will be resplendent in fair isle, but by then we'll have moved onto houndstooth or paisley or something.

These book sales are brutal. Secondhand book collectors are a particularly aggressive breed. After jostling through the masses, feverishly (& rather possessively) stooped over trestles piled with dusty books, I finally unearthed a few bargains that made the struggle worthwhile. Actually, it was my friend Mark who found this little beauty for me.

I Love...Mary Blair

Hands up who's a lifetime member of the Mary Blair Appreciation Society (if there is such a thing)? Meeeeee!!! I've loved Mary Blair since I was little & first read I Can Fly. Isn't it funny how kids study things so intently? Well I know every brush stroke of every illustration from that book, & when I recently got hold of a first edition copy & flicked through its pages for the first time in over 30 years, it was like being dumped over the head with an ice-cold bucket of 'OMG, I remember that!' My favourite picture was the one I've featured here, of the little girl as a make-believe worm in her fuzzy green beret & matching cardie. I wanted an outfit just like it when I was 5 - so stylish!

The beauty of Mary Blair's work is that it's just as fresh as it was 50 years ago, & her influence extends into the 21st century with so many artists (either consciously or otherwise) borrowing a little something (or a lot) from her style.

There's so much I could say about her work - about her amazing instinct for colour, how much I love her textures, the way she uses paint, etc, etc - but what I love most is her energy & spontaneity, the boundless sense of joy, & most of all, the memories her art evokes.

If you'd like to find out more about Mary Blair, Wikipedia is a good place to start. You can also check out some more of her work at the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive & Cartoon Modern.

The illustrations I've posted are scanned from my own collection as follows...

Top Left: from the front flyleaf of The Golden Book of Little Verses by Miriam Clark Potter, first published 1946.

Top Centre: also from The Golden Book of Little Verses.

Top Right: from the endpapers of The New Golden Song Book.

Above Centre: from I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss, first published 1950.

Below: Two spot illustrations from The New Golden Song Book, first published 1945.