April 27, 2019

"Roses are Red. Are Violets Blue??" by Alice & Martin Provensen (1973)

ALICE PROVENSEN (1918 - 2018) and MARTIN PROVENSEN (1916 – 1987) were an American couple who illustrated more than 40 children's books together, 19 of which they also wrote and edited. According to Alice, "we were a true collaboration. Martin and I really were one artist."
Their early lives were remarkably similar. Both were born in Chicago and both moved to California when they were twelve. Both received scholarships to the Art Institute of Chicago, and both attended the University of California, though at separate campuses. After college, Alice went to work with Walter Lantz Studio, the creators of Woody Woodpecker, and Martin took work with the rival Walt Disney Studio, where he collaborated on Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo.
The pair met in 1943 when Martin, working as a creator of training films for the American military, was assigned to the Walter Lantz Studio. They were married in 1944 and resettled in Washington, D.C., where they worked on war-related projects. After the war they moved to New York City where a friend helped them get their first job, illustrating The Fireside Book of Folk Songs. They illustrated several Little Golden Books including The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown (1949). In 1952, Tony the Tiger, designed by Martin, debuted as a Kellogg's mascot.
The Provensen's were a runner-up for the 1982 Caldecott Medal as illustrators of A Visit to William Blake's Inn by Nancy Willard (who won the companion Newbery Medal). Two years later they won the Caldecott for The Glorious Flight, the story of aviator Louis BlĂ©riot, the first man to fly solo across the English Channel, which they also wrote. The annual award by U.S. professional librarians recognizes the year's "most distinguished American picture book for children". Eight of their books were named to The New York Times annual Ten Best Illustrated Books, including Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm (1974) and An Owl and Three Pussycats (1981). he couple were collaborative illustrators for Donald Waxman's "Pagaents for Piano," a series of pedagogical primers. 
The couple lived for many years at Maple Hill Farm in Dutchess County, New York, which they portrayed in A Year at Maple Hill Farm (1978) as well as Our Animal Friends. Martin died of a heart attack on March 27, 1987, in Staatsburg. Alice continued to live and work at Maple Hill Farm, publishing solo work such as The Buck Stops Here: the Presidents of the United States (1990) and My fellow Americans: a family album (1995), two presentations of people and events from American history (juvenile nonfiction). Punch in New York, published in 1991, is considered her best solo work.The book received several honors and is dedicated to her grandson, Sean.
After turning ninety, Alice made the move from her beloved rustic farm to San Clemente, California to live with her daughter, Karen Mitchell, and her family. Provensen continued working (an addition was added to her daughter's house for a studio) well into her nineties. She died only four months before her 100th birthday.
Learn more about the Provensen's.

April 20, 2019

"Birds: A Child's First Book About Our Most Familiar Birds" by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin (1958)

ELOISE WILKIN (1904 – 1987), was an American illustrator. She was best known as an illustrator of Little Golden Books. Many of the picture books she illustrated have become classics of American children's literature. Jane Werner Watson, who edited and wrote hundreds of Golden Books, called Eloise Wilkin "the soul of Little Golden Books", and Wilkin's books remain highly collectible. Her watercolor and colored pencil illustrations are known for their glowing depiction of babies, toddlers, and their parents in idyllic rural and domestic settings. 
Wilkin was born in Rochester, New York, the third of four children. At age 2, Eloise moved with her family to New York City, but spent every summer with her siblings at a relative's home in western New York State. Memories forged there of family togetherness and the outdoors would influence her famous illustrations of nature, children, and family life. Wilkin won a drawing contest for New York schoolchildren at age 11 and graduated from the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, now the Rochester Institute of Technology, in 1923.
Soon after college graduation, Eloise and friend Joan Esley opened an art studio in Rochester, NY but struggling to find work, the pair moved to New York City, where Century Company gave Eloise her first book to illustrate, The Shining Hours. Many of her early illustrations were for school books. Early in her career Eloise illustrated paper dolls for Samuel Gabriel & Sons, Playtime House and Jaymar. Wilkin often illustrated the titles of her sister, children's author Esther Burns Wilkin, who married Eloise's brother-in-law. The first of the Wilkins' collaborations was Mrs. Peregrine and the Yak, published by the Henry Holt Company. 
In 1944, Wilkin signed an exclusive contract with original Little Golden Books publisher Simon & Schuster requiring her to illustrate three books each year. She would ultimately illustrate 47 Little Golden Books. She often used her children and grandchildren and their friends as models for her illustrations. A devout Christian, Wilkin frequently illustrated religious picture books including several compilations of prayers for children.
Wilkins occasionally revised her illustrated works to reflect changing cultural norms. The New Baby, first published in 1948, depicted an expectant mother just days away from birth with no visible signs of pregnancy. For the 1975 reprinting, Wilkin decided to more realistically portray the mother and her pregnant form. The 1954 cover of "The New Baby" shows an infant sleeping on her tummy, which Wilkins changed for the 1975 edition after increasing societal awareness of sudden infant death syndrome. The original 1956 edition of My Little Golden Book about God featured Caucasian children only, and Wilkin re-illustrated several pages to include children of other races in 1974.
Many of Wilkin's illustrations for Golden Books appeared on calendars, puzzles, and record sleeves of Little Golden Records, and were also found on china plates, Hallmark Cards, and in Child's Life, Story Parade, and Golden magazines. Wilkin's Golden Books have been published in French, Hebrew, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.


April 13, 2019

"A Golden Sturdy Book of Counting" written & illustrated by Helen Federico (1969)

HELEN FEDERICO (1921 - 2012) had a long career as a graphic designer, painter and illustrator. A talented and directed young artist, Federico graduated from Parsons School of Design. She worked for the Abbott Kimball advertising co., where she met her future husband, art director Gene Federico. They were married June 26, 1942. Helen worked at I. Miller shoes, assisting Alexey Brodovich, known for introducing modern graphic design to the U.S., and was associate art director under Paul Rand at William H. Weintraub Co. Federico moved to Pound Ridge, New York, in 1951, where she worked as an independent illustrator, painter and graphic designer. Clients included MOMA, IBM, Doubleday, Glamour, Fortune. Specializing in gouache and acryllics, she created scores of beautiful paintings. She wrote and illustrated children's books and illustrated cookbooks. She was a former trustee of Hiram Halle Memorial Library (Pound Ridge).