Illustrated Books in Baltimore 1
Posted by ddrees on June 20, 2009
his post was planned for April during spring break but, alas, other demands for my time emerged so the content is becoming more historic than current for Baltimore. After I graduated from Penn State in 1970 and failed to find a teaching job in higher education after sending perhaps two hundred letters of application, I landed in Baltimore working as Gallery Director for Ferdinand Roten Galleries on Mulberry Street. Roten’s was near the main Hutzler’s, and other still flourishing but soon to disappear downtown department stores. The job was wonderful in that I got to see terrific prints and meet some of the artists, but I wanted a teaching job. I immediately started on a second round campaign to get a higher education job. As it happens, I was around the corner from the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library so I immediately started combing their shelves of college catalogues for art department chairperson names and such. There was no easy way to look colleges up without the WWW . There was a directory of college personnel, whose title I forget, but you couldn’t get information about the department and what their faculty artwork looked like and such in the same place. Pratt had an excellent collection of catalogues. I could go to the Pratt on lunch hour. What a boon.
Anyway, from the second round of application letters, I got an interview at Catonsville Community College, now CCBC, and had an instructor spot by February 1971. Though I felt that my being in Baltimore was by lame chance, perhaps as Fred Astaire once said “luck is a fool’s name for fate”. Baltimore has proved to be a rich place to be. I had and have a strong interest in illustrated books. Coming out of PSU I had done some study in illuminated manuscripts with the incomparable Tony Cutler, Evan Pugh Professor of Art History. I like to mention these connections because of the six degrees of separation phenomenon.I had already modestly started collecting illustrated children’s books , notably buying a first edition of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are when it came out in 1963.
Soon enough I discovered that Baltimore was a great repository of illustrated books of all types. The Pratt was wonderful but there was the Evergreen Museum and Library of JHU, which had natural history books. There was JHU Sheridan Libraries, which had a rare book collection. I got my gloved hands on manuscripts at JHU while taking illuminated manuscript art history classes under Dr. Sandra Hindman now of Les Enluminures . I also put up an exhibition of called The Art of Marbling in the Sheridan in 1991.And there was the Walters Art Museum with its superb collection of manuscripts and books where I have seen numerous wonderful exhibits over the years. I wish I hadn’t been so influenced by the academic rhetoric of my younger years that called illustration a a “minor” art form, because it certainly has been a joy to me.
This spring break we went to the Enoch Pratt Free library to see the exhibit,Golden Legacy: Original Art from 65 Years of golden Books sponsored by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene Texas and touring till January 2012. This show closed at the Pratt on May 18. Next stop Omaha Nebraska.
This exhibition will present the most extensive public showing ever of original illustration art from American publishing’s best loved and most consequential picture-book series, Little Golden Books—the history-making experiment that celebrates its 65th anniversary in 2007. Launched in 1942—the first full year of America’s involvement in the Second World War—Little Golden Books made high quality illustrated books available at affordable prices for the first time to millions of young children and their parents. Among the artists who contributed to the ambitious series were greats of the European émigré community (including Garth Williams, Feodor Rojankovsky, and Tibor Gergely) who had gathered in New York as the European situation worsened; alumni of the Walt Disney Studios (including Gustaf Tenggren, Martin Provensen, J.P. Miller, and Mary Blair), who came East for the artistic freedom and control associated with picture-book making; and such American originals as Eloise Wilkin, Elizabeth Orton Jones, Richard Scarry, and Hilary Knight.
There is a book on the exhibit available at NCCIL as well as children’s books signed by the authors in their store. NCCIL has other touring shows available and a schedule on their site. The site also has information about contemporary artists. We took some pictures of the artwork but it was difficult to shoot. Two of my Baltimore /Flickr contacts have picture sets about this show as well, Child at Art and Picture Books. My sisters and I owned quite a few of these books and they may still be in my mother’s attic. I include a few favorites here but check the Flickr sites and NCCIL for much more. The Pratt continues to have great book related exhibits and is a beautiful place to visit itself. I really enjoyed seeing the original artwork with its fine craftsmanship up close.