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Ruth Adler Schnee Pioneering Textile Design

February 22, 2021

Born Ruth Adler in 1923, her passion for art started very early.  Her parents loved art, music and design and instilled that same passion in her.  As a child she played with mobiles on the floor of family friend artist Paul Klee’s studio and drew detailed interiors as a pastime in her childhood home in Düsseldorf, Germany.

In 1942, when Ruth left Detroit to attend RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), she took an overnight train on the New York-bound Wolverine line. On her train schedule, a warning alerted passengers to delays from trains carrying war materials or troops, which had the right of way. She understood those warnings more than most. Born in Germany, she and her family had fled the Nazi regime in 1938. She was not yet a naturalized American, nor was she a German: In 1935, Hitler had stripped all Jews of citizenship.

“I was a nobody,” Ruth told her daughter in a 2002 interview. They may have lost almost everything material, but the family held on to its love of art as they settled in Detroit. “We came to Detroit without a job or money, and before looking for a job my parents took us to the Detroit art institute,” she said.

That love of art became part of Ruth’s DNA and has been her career, passion and reward throughout her life. “It all began in Detroit with trips to the DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts Museum) and at Cass Technical High School. “I simply blossomed when I got to Cass,” she says, “because it was my love. … I just went wild.”

That love and talent won her a full four-year scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design. After a stint in New York she returned to Michigan on a one-year fellowship to attend Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills and became the first woman to earn a graduate degree in architecture.

“The competition was to design a house encompassing all the modern gadgets that were designed during the war but had just come on the market,” Schnee says. “My house was designed in glass and steel with large open spaces in the Mies van der Rohe style, but I could not find fabrics to fit the house. Everything on the market was French provincial. So I designed my own drapery fabric.”

She decided to go into business and opened a storefront on 12th Street in Detroit. There she displayed and sold a small selection of furniture and wares by such esteemed modernists as George Nelson, Warren Platner and Frank Lloyd Wright, all major architects and designers of mid-century modernism.

When she married Edward Schnee, a graduate of the Yale School of Economics, they moved to a larger space on Puritan Street and officially launched the Adler-Schnee store. It was one of the first stores in the United States to sell modern furniture, fabrics and home furnishings to the public – everything from cooking utensils to unique art objects. After a fire at the store, they moved the store to Livernois Avenue. It was not initially successful. People in those days preferred the mass market styles sold in department stores. “We just couldn’t earn a living in the early days,” she says, “but I was inspired by art and nature. It’s a simple thing, but true.” She was mixing in artistic circles, and as a young mother of three, her circle of friends and collaborators included Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller and Minoru Yamasaki.

Slowly but surely things got better. The artistic objects sold at Adler-Schnee began to show up in kitchens and living rooms across metro Detroit and across the nation and her work became well known. From living rooms, fitting rooms and hospital rooms to museums, showrooms and skyscrapers, her textiles began to appear in the most intimate and the most iconic settings.

She worked on the General Motors Technical Center in Warren (1950-55), on the World Trade Center (1970-77), and on the update of Albert Kahn’s Ford Rotunda in Dearborn (1952-53).

Ruth’s work also included projects that reflected her experience as a woman in an almost exclusively male industry: While pregnant with one of her children, she designed interiors for the former Feld-Weisberg Clinic, a contemporary building named for her obstetrician at the time. “I had the idea of using whimsical figures on the ceiling, because I had to be lying on . . . those tables for the examinations, and I felt that one should have something fun to look at while one is being examined,” she says in her oral history.

The doctors vehemently opposed her idea, which called for wallpaper designs by illustrator Saul Steinberg. But Ruth insisted. “I was so convinced that that’s what I wanted [that] on our own, we paid for that Steinberg wallpaper. . . The reaction from the patients was unbelievable. I had calls morning, noon and night from women who had been examined thanking me for finally doing something wonderful to those rooms.”

“As an immigrant who launched an influential business in Detroit, as a woman who broke through barriers in a male-dominated field, as a Detroiter who helped shape an international sensibility, her story speaks to the value of inclusiveness, to the entrepreneurial spirit and to the profound role the arts play in nurturing our souls,” says Rip Rapson, Kresge president and chief executive officer. Two years ago, at 91, she was selected as the 2015 Kresge Eminent Artist.

Now at 93, she continues to work most of the year from her studio in Southfield. She still designs custom fabrics for Knoll Textiles, where she holds a 20-year contract, and with Anzea Textiles, an upholstery company. “I do the work because I love it,” she says. “And now to be recognized that my work has some quality to it, it’s very exciting to me. It’s incredible.”

She believes the best lesson to learn about creativity is being observant. “You have to look at things, see things,” she says. “Everything around us is a design that can be put on paper. As a design: the simpler, the better.”

Many thanks to the information from Marge Sorge over at The Detroit Hub, which has made this post possible.

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Le Witt and Him

February 15, 2021

Having met in a Warsaw café in 1933, two Polish-born artists Jan Le Witt and George Him, built upon a friendship to become the highly successful collaborative design partnership Lewitt-Him. It’s so difficult to accurately say which partner created what, so I’ve created this post for both artists, working together.

George Him was born Jerzy Himmelfarb in 1900 to a Polish-Jewish family in Lodz, Poland. After schooling and further education in Warsaw Him studied Roman Law in Moscow but left in 1917 when the Russian Revolution forced the closure of the university he was attending. He moved to Bonn and by 1924 had completed a PhD at the University of Bonn on the comparative history of religions before deciding to study graphic art in Leipzig. George studied at the Leipzig Academy of Graphic Art but even before he graduated in 1928, he was already undertaking commercial commissions. He returned to Poland where, in 1933, he changed his name and also established a design partnership with Jan Le Witt. Working as Lewitt-Him, the two established a distinctive design style which combined cubist and surrealist elements, often in a humorous context. Their most notable work in Poland were illustrations for an experimental poetry group known as Skamander.

The first work that brought the team success was the 1934 graphic presentation of three poems by Julian Tuwim: “Locomotives”, “Rzepka” and “Bird radio”. This book was reprinted several times and also appeared in translation to French and English.

Him and Le Witt worked together in Poland for several years before, in 1937, they relocated the Lewitt-Him design business to London, following an exhibition of their work there by the publishers Lund Humphries. The pair quickly gained commercial contracts with London Transport and Imperial Airways as well as illustrating children’s books, such as The Little Red Engine Gets a Name (1942) by Diana Ross.

They settled here and soon found that they were among a growing number of talented artistic emigres.

George continued his practice as freelance designer and design consultant, active in all fields of graphic design, publicity, exhibitions, corporate identity, book design etc.

In London during World War II the partnership received notable commissions for information and public safety posters from, among others, the General Post Office, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Ministry of Information.

George was naturalized as a British citizen in 1948 and the Lewitt-Him partnership enjoyed great success.

Notable commissions included designing the giant umbrella tree for the Wet Weather section of the 1946 Britain Can Make It exhibition…

… and the Guinness Clock Tower for Battersea Park Pleasure Gardens and murals for the Education Pavilion of the 1951 Festival of Britain. (More info on the clock here)

The Lewitt-Him partnership was dissolved in 1954, when Jan decided to focus on developing his abstract paintings and artworks. George continued to work as a commercial designer.

Among the advertising campaigns he illustrated was the 1950’s Schweppeshire campaign for the Schweppes drinks company. He also designed the point of sale merchandise to be used in the shops.

His other clients numbered several airlines, including Pan-American Airways, El Al and American Overseas Airlines plus the publishers of Punch and Penguin Books. He continued to illustrate books but also designed exhibition stands, such as the Australia stand at the 1960 Ideal Home Exhibition and large window displays, notably for the De Bijenkorf store in Rotterdam and the 1961 Christmas windows for the Design Centre in London.

From 1969 until 1977, Him taught graphic design at Leicester Polytechnic. Him was an active artist up until the very end of his life. Two retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held, one in 1976 at the London College of Printing and another in 1978 at the Ben Uri Gallery in London. In 1977 Him was awarded the Francis Williams Book Illustration Award and in 1978 became a Royal Designer for Industry.

Jan Le Witt (1907–1991) was a Polish-born British abstract artist, graphic designer and illustrator. He had a long professional partnership with George Him.

As a design company, Lewitt-Him brought an innovative use of colour, abstraction and symbolism to commercial design. They established a reputation for fine poster work during World War Two and for exhibition displays.

After the partnership Jan, who had become a British citizen in 1947, abandoned graphic design to work with Sadler’s Wells Ballet, creating sets and costumes for their performances.

A wonderful collaboration that lasted over 20 years. What do you think readers ?

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Kay Bojesen Wooden Classic Toys

February 8, 2021

Good morning.

Before we start with today’s post, I would just like to mention that I will be having my next ceramic selling event on 20th and 21st February via my stories at Fishinkblog.(www.instagram.com/fishinkblog).  I am joining Curated Makers for their #postablepopup over in my stories and on their feed on Instagram starting at 9am UK time.

I will have a range of new ceramics to show and sell.

So to our featured artist for today…  Kay Bojesen (15 August 1886 – 28 August 1958) was a Danish silversmith and designer.

He is best known for creating wooden animals, especially his wooden monkey (above) which was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert museum in London in the 1950’s, and which today is considered a design classic.

Born on 15 August 1886 in Copenhagen, Denmark, Kay first trained to be a grocer, but in 1906 began working for Danish silversmith Georg Jensen. The Danish Museum of Art & Design describes his early work as being in an Art Nouveau style, likely due to Jensen’s influence.

In 1922, Kay began designing wooden toys, typically about six to ten inches tall, with moveable limbs. These included a teak and limba monkey (1951), an oak elephant, a bear made of oak and maple, a rocking horse of beech, a parrot, a dachshund, and toy soldiers of the Danish Royal Guard including a drummer, a private with rifle and a standard-bearer. In 1990, Danish design house Rosendahl bought the rights to the toys.

In 1931, he was one of the key founders of the design exhibition gallery and shop called “Den Permanente” (The Permanent), a collective which aimed to exhibit the best of Danish design. Kay also designed furniture for children, jewellery and housewares. A set of stainless steel cutlery he designed in 1938 won the Grand Prix at the Milan Triennial IX of 1951, after which he named the set “Grand Prix.” Today, the Grand Prix cutlery has been relaunched and is being manufactured by Kay Bojesen’s granddaughter, Susanne Bojesen Rosenqvist. The Grand Prix is known as the national cutlery of Denmark and is to be found in every Danish Embassy worldwide.

 

Kay Bojesen died August 28, 1958, at the age of 72. His shop in Copenhagen, which he founded in 1932, operated until the nineteen-eighties. Following his death it was continued by his widow Erna Bojesen until her death in 1986.

He was an honorary member of the National Association of Danish Arts and Crafts, and was recognized for his toys by the Danish National Committee of the OEMP (World Organisation for Early Childhood Education). I bet they feel great to play with, anyone have or had one of these growing up ?

Andy Lovell Etching our Landscapes

February 1, 2021

Hello everyone, I hope you had a great weekend.

I first spoke about the work of Andy Lovell back in 2010. His work pops up in my searches every now and again and I remember what fab illustrations he creates.

He is an artist, illustrator and printmaker who has become known for his abstract etchings, mono-prints and Cyanotype art.

Having originally studied at the Liverpool School of Art and Design, his work is well recognised and his individuality produces striking artwork.

Andy takes inspiration from life which is then revisited through the medium of print.

He is a master of line, colour and mark making.

Taking original sketches and paintings, Andy is able to capture a real sense of mood and place from the places he visits to sketch.

He knows how to add drama and interest to a landscape.

His landscapes speak of earth and furrowed fields. Forest and wildplants throw splashes of colour and shape, adding to the richness of each illustration.

I love these wild moor and lofty hill prints. The clever dragged lines of ink and paint not only help to suggest the landscape but also give a visual direction to each scene.

You can almost feel like you’re standing looking down these valleys.

The hills eventually lead us to the sea.

White cliffs and wild waters.

Tepid tones, swirling skies and seas.

These textured black and whites are wonderful, with a slight sixties retro edge to them.

Breathtaking textures.

You can discover more of his prints for sale here on his website.

Gwenda Morgan Beautiful Woodcuts

January 25, 2021

Hello one and all. I shall start by thanking everyone who came and bought from my ‘shop’ @fishinkblog on Instagram over the weekend. If you missed it don’t worry there are still many wonderful ceramics for you to browse through, but it was a great sucess and my work is now on it’s way to the USA and Australia which is fab.

I thought as it’s been particually snowy here in the UK of late that this artists’ work may be just the tonic, enjoy !

Gwenda Morgan (1908 – 1991) was born in Petworth, her father having moved there to work at the ironmongers Austens, of which he later became the proprietor. Following school in Petworth and at Brighton and Hove High School. From 1926, Gwenda studied at Goldsmiths’ College of Art in London.

From 1930 she attended the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in Pimlico where she was taught and very strongly influenced by the principal, Iain Macnab.  The Grosvenor School was a progressive art school, and the championing of wood engraving and linocuts fitted with its democratic approach to the arts.

The main body of her work drew upon the landscape and buildings around Petworth and the neighbouring South Downs. Her work was inspired by that of Iain Macnab, Percy Douglas Bliss and the Sussex-bred Eric Ravilious.

Throughout the Second World War she worked in the Women’s Land Army just outside Petworth. Her record of those years was published by the Whittington Press in 2002 as The Diary of a Land Girl, 1939-1945. It is a poignant record of the determination to carry on whatever the weather or wartime deprivations.

Here’s an excerpt from Christmas Eve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers & Engravers, an Honorary Member of the Society of Wood Engravers, and a Member of the National Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, and she showed work at their annual exhibitions. She also exhibited at the Royal Academy and at the Redfern Gallery.

Her prints are held in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in London, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, among others.

Some of her work has a wonderful sense of movement… even the still life woodcuts!

I feel that Gwenda’s work is somehow timeless, like this image above called ‘Winter Arrangement’, it feels like it could have been created last week and not over 60 years ago, as it was originally engraved in 1954!

Here’s a great shot of Gwenda with her family.

Lovely depictions of rural lifestyles at that time.

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Fishinkblog Ceramics sale 2021… this weekend !!

January 20, 2021

Hello everyone, just a quick message to say that my first Ceramic selling event of 2021 is happening this Saturday 23rd January at 9am UK time, and is open until 5pm Sunday 24th.

I will have all new ceramics including dogs, cats, large whales, birds and trees. A few rabbits, foxes and a good selection of lovely ceramic pendants. Please go to Instagram @fishinkblog (www.instagram.com/fishinkblog) if you would like to pick up some unique colourful gifts for yourself or presents for early birthdays this year. I do ship worldwide too.

Some examples below.

 

Look forward to seeing you on Saturday, please share this event with your friends. Thank you Craig

Lynn Chadwick Dark Sculptures, Metallic Forces

January 18, 2021

Happy Monday everyone. Today I would like to revisit the work of an amazing Sculptor.

Lynn Chadwick c. 1950 at work in his studio with maquette for sculpture. English sculptor 1914 - 2003 ( Cigarette smoke....AFYC8B Lynn Chadwick c. 1950 at work in his studio with maquette for sculpture. English sculptor 1914 - 2003 ( Cigarette smoke.

Lynn Russell Chadwick was born in London on 24 November 1914. After attending the Merchant Taylor School and a stay in France, Chadwick worked for several London architect’s practices between 1933 and 1939. At that time he focused on techniques of draughtsmanship and watercolour as well as oil painting.

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During the second world war, Lynn Chadwick served for a while as a land labourer before volunteering as a Royal Navy pilot and serving between 1941 and 1945. On his return to London, he began to experiment with mobiles and earned a living, quite successfully, as a freelance designer until 1952. Collaboration with the architect Rodney Thomas proved a formative influence on Chadwick and from 1951, Chadwick received commissions for sculpture. He had a solo show at Gimpel Fils in 1950. For his figures, Lynn Chadwick mainly used pieces of iron welded together, which, as mobiles, are reminiscent of Calder’s work but as stabiles (Stabiles are a form of modern sculpture invented by Alexander Calder) filled with concrete stand on long legs and resemble a cross between abstract constructs and figurative skeletal beings.

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I think some of his work is quite primeval, almost bat or bird-like and quite ‘dark’ in terms of the feeling they emit. There’s a strange almost fascinating air of foreboding about them, which only makes me want to find out more.

Fishinkblog 9869 Lynn Chadwick 2

Chadwick achieved instant recognition in the 1950s when his objects were awarded numerous prizes (Venice 1956, Padua 1959, Lugano 1960) and were shown at exhibitions of international stature (1952 and 1956 Venice Biennales). He received commissions for more monumental sculptures, gradually transforming his rough, often aggressive-looking animal figures into softer, even more sentimental compositions with anthropomorphic features. While continuing to do standing figures, Chadwick turned increasingly often to recumbent or seated pairs of figures.

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These seated figures remind me of Kings and Queens. Not dissimilar to the ideas and scultural forms of Henry Moore.

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At home in Lypiatt Park, Gloucestershire, Chadwick established a sculpture park of his own. Long since a Commander of the British Empire (1964), Chadwick was also made an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1985. Although his work was in its heyday in the 1950s, Chadwick continued to develop his figures within the context of his material idiom until the century closed. By the time Lynn Chadwick died in Stroud, Gloucestershire in 2003, he was one of the best-known sculptors of the post-war era.

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More strong and assertive bat-women figures here. Confident, dark and striding ahead.

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Many thanks to Art Directory for the information on Lynn, used in this article. Wonderful work. I’d love to hear what emotions they stirr in you all.

Chiu-i Wu Engaging Sculpture

January 11, 2021

I came across the work of Chiu-i Wu about six months ago and have marvelled at her stunning work ever since.

Beautiful, curvacious lines and peaceful, delicate features.

They have an air of calm that makes me feel quite restful.

Almost an inner calm.

And then… there are her beasts and ceramic creatures ! Grrrrreat !

I can almost hear them playfully growling lol

Prices start around £50 for small pieces up to £2500 for larger sculptures.

Chiu-i  also paints. They also look a little dream-like or perhaps places to escape to.

Wouldn’t these animals look wonderful snuffling around in your garden ?

I love these wonderful creatures. More pieces to make us all smile, that’s what we need. What says you readers ? : )

Who Done It ? A Mid-century Wallpaper Mystery

January 4, 2021

Good morning to one and all and welcome to the new improved 2021. We can but hope !

I want to start the new year with a wonderful test for someone’s memory. A reader from the USA got in touch last week to ask if the mural wallpaper she recently discovered in her 1950’s home, could have been the work of Bernice Myers from my last post.

After looking at the photos here that she sent me, I don’t think it is, largely because the rendering of the faces and feet are very different to those of Bernice’s work. But I agree that the style is similar and it was a popular trend in the 1950’s to draw in this way.

Which leaves us with a dilema, who’s work is it and also which company printed such wonderful murals onto wallpaper ? If anyone has anything similar in their home, knows who may have created this masterpiece or has any photos of similar wallpapers then please let us know. The good news is that, this will be her son’s room and he loves the mural, so it will be staying ! YAY !

Great news for a retro start to the new year. Happy January everyone 🙂

Bernice Myers Christmas Special

December 21, 2020

Hello everyone and welcome to my final post of 2020, what a crazy year hey ! I sincerely hope this finds you well and looking forward to a happy festive break.

I have a wonderful treat for you today and a post that I have been saving up for this very moment. Any regular readers to my blog will know that I am not just a big fan of 50’s and 60’s illustration, but also of the opportunity to introduce, promote and showcase artists who have been mid-century greats and may nowadays be unknown to a more contemporary audience. Today it is the turn of the wonderful, Bernice Myers !! (hearing a fanfare in my head), whom I’ve mentioned previously here and here.

Initially I wasn’t certain that Bernice would care to take part, as I had messaged her four years ago to see if she would answer some questions, but at that point she had politely declined.

Bernice is not only a wonderful mid-century illustrator, but believe it or not, she has just written her latest book at the age of 95 ! and has a back catalogue of over 100 volumes to date. Her editor Grace contacted me to tell me of her latest book ‘Dog Meets Dog’ and then fortunately her son Marc got in touch, and it was with his help, I was able to ask his mum some carefully chosen questions and this post was possible.

Marc told me that basically “She’ll respond if the questions are good” and as we say the rest is history!  Phew lol !

Hi Bernice, many, many thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. I initially created my blog in order to show a contemporary audience the work of artists who’s work perhaps isn’t still in print and very little is known about them, their life, their struggles to find work or just how living in different time periods had it’s own share of problems or benefits that a modern audience may be unaware of. I want to tell people each illustrators story so that we may better appreciate the people behind the work that we have grown up with (and in your case) are probably still reading to our grand children today.

Could you please tell me your background story, i.e. where you grew up, what memories you have of becoming an artist. How you started as an illustrator, what life was like working as a female illustrator when you started, how hard was it to find work, how did you first get ‘discovered’ as an artist. Memories/ funny tales of working for the different publishers etc.

I was born in the Inwood section of Manhattan in 1925. My father, Leo, traveled often to Europe as a costume-jewelry designer and salesman. But those trips ended in the early ‘30s as Europe grew increasingly dangerous with the rise of Nazi Germany. My family managed to survive the Depression. I had a sister who was many years my senior, and my parents were older and weary, so growing up was relatively lonely. I began to draw at an early age, a talent that grew once I began to work in New York’s garment district as a fashion sketcher and model during World War II. Back then, families without means couldn’t afford to send their kids to college, and loans for education weren’t widely available. Only returning veterans on the G.I. Bill were able to get a free college education. So for most of us, you went to work right after high school.

When the war ended, I landed a job at Columbia Pictures in New York in the photostat department. Which meant I was responsible for having photostats made of artwork created by the art department of movie stars for display at theaters in support of upcoming movies. In those days, the movie studios were in Los Angeles, but the business of promoting their films (and recording the scores) often were done in New York. At Columbia, I met my husband, Lou Myers, who was a portraitist in the art department. He had been a war artist in the Navy and portrait painter. After the war, he used that talent to draw and paint actors’ likenesses for theater posters. After we married in 1947, we began taking on children’s-book illustration work together. For a brief time, we received double-billing. My career as a children’s book illustrator began in 1949. One of the first children’s books with my name alone was for “It’s a Secret” (Wonder Book), by Benjamin Brewster. It was published in 1950. “Billy and His Steam Roller” (Wonder/1951), “Mr. Shortsleeves’ Great Big Store” (See Saw/1952), “Bunny Button” (Whitman/1953) and “Peter Picket Pin” (Whitman/1953) followed, among others.

Then Lou and I went off to Europe to hitchhike in the early 1950s and moved to Paris in early 1954. We both illustrated children’s books there for French publishers (among other things) before returning to New York in 1956, where my first son, Marc, was born. After my second son, Danny, was born in 1959, my career grew steadily in the ‘60s as children’s books became easier to print as paperbacks. Schools were provided with book lists and ordering forms for students, and the public education system began to view children’s books as an important part of their curriculum for grade school.

Did you ever look to anyone for inspiration or was your style purely your own?

No one specifically, but I always wanted to stand out. Lou taught me that. If your drawings had a special look, you’d be in demand, especially if you had an eye for design. I’ve always loved children and believed that what was most important in books was the feel of illustrations. I wanted mine to connect with children on an emotional level, not as realistic or photographic illustration. To achieve my feel, I embraced a graphic simplicity that gave children illustrations that were on their level. I left enough space for their imaginations to kick in and for them to identify with what they saw. In other words, by thinking like a child I was able to communicate like one.

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Do you enjoy working in any one style, above others, or in a particular medium, paint, collage more textural for example ? Does it help to have more than one style to be more versatile in the publishing industry ? I notice, for example, that the style you used for the science based books, ( the “All Around’ series) of textures, strong outlines, few colours, is very different from the more animal based books you’ve drawn. (The Pear Shaped Hill, Olivier etc) which is also different from the more cartoony Bears series. Perhaps you created different looks for different subjects as you felt was appropriate to that area of interest, making science books more straight forward and simplistic and the animal stories more colourful and well rounded, to appeal to a younger audience.

I did not consciously set out to project one style or another, nor did I shift styles for different subject matter. The “All Around” series forced me to envision how I was going to fit everything necessary on a single page or spread. In other words, I had to develop a strong sense of art direction before drawing so that each cover and spread inside was animated with action and delivered a high fun factor. The subject matter—space, water, earth and so on—demanded an active, “cool” approach. Sympathetic to children’s short attention spans, I knew that they would have to be pulled and engaged by my drawings if we expected them to read and absorb the material. My other books instinctively felt like they needed texture or graphic drama, again, to command the attention of young minds. My adversary was distraction, so I consciously worked to make sure that what I drew was more interesting than TV, cereal boxes and comic books. What else could I do?

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Can you remember what your brief on a book would have been like in the 50’s/ 60’s. Were you given a copy of the text and told to ‘sketch around it’ or did you have ideas of your own for the books , or perhaps worked closely with each different author and took some guidance from them?

Publishers knew I had a strong sense of art direction, so they’d simply send along a manuscript and then turn me loose, so to speak. I was urged to “do my thing” and come up with solutions that were bold and active, in a child’s vernacular. My work was known for leaving children mental blanks to fill in. I found that children don’t need or want lots of detail. They look for engagement and whimsy, something that makes them laugh. When that happens, they sense a friend and identify with the characters and the story. At least in my experience.

During your career were you working mostly as a freelance artist or were you employed by one publishing house at one time ?

I worked as a freelance writer and illustrator, but a number of publishing houses used me often because sales of my books were strong. These publishers included Scholastic, McGraw-Hill and Four Winds among others.

At any time during your career, did you feel that being a female artist either a hindrance or a benefit. I think of the “MadMen” era in particular and hear stories of how badly women were treated or what they were expected to put up with in order to get work.

I didn’t find bias during the 1950s and beyond. Then again, I worked mostly at home, and my editors were mostly women. At first, I worked with my husband on book illustrations. But in a very short period of time, I could handle the work myself, and many women worked in the children’s book market then. It was like the maternity ward of publishing. Where the challenges existed were on the home front. My husband was very successful as a cartoonist and pioneered his thick-line style in print advertising work before the wide use of photography in the 1970s. His style was so well known, he was among the first who was encouraged to include his oversized signature, which was a big deal in commercial advertising.

As a result, we both worked seven days a week to complete the large amount of work that came our way. Up until 1969, we lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. So in addition to writing and illustrating more than 100 books, I had to raise Marc and Danny—meaning I had to make sure they did their schoolwork, had breakfast lunch and dinner, took them to stores for clothes, etc. I also was expected to shop for food, cook dinner, help Lou get his work out, and deal with our house once we moved north of New York in 1969. I didn’t mind. I always had a lot of drive and energy. But looking back, I have no idea how I managed.

My children’s-book work was relentless, but for my husband and me, work wasn’t work. It was who we were. We both loved seeing our work in print. There was a great sense of accomplishment. As all authors know, the joy of opening a box of newly published books is rewarding, and you instantly forget the hard work that went into those books. Just watching my kids’ faces as they realized their mother had written and illustrated those books was worth it.

Below.. a magazine painting by Bernice for a Fashion spread.

Two books of yours that I really admire are Off into Space and My first book of Weather. The illustrations are simplistic but both endearing and engaging. Do you have a favourite book from your own extensive library of books you have illustrated, and what makes it special for you ?

Thank you for your kind words. I don’t look at my books the way you do. In other words, you delight in elements that came naturally and magically to me. I didn’t think about them that way at the time. They were problems that needed solving. So favoring one book over another, for me, is often a question of how much of a struggle went into creating it and whether I enjoyed the process. But to your point, I am proud of the science series because there were many hurdles to leap to make them come together neatly and excite children. The same with the Space book. The layout choices, the images and the color choices all come together well and they remain remarkable. They still deliver a visual bang, don’t you think?

Yes I do.

Do you have any idea how many books you have had published to date ? Now at the wonderful age of 95, what are your biggest challenges in creating new books ? Obviously you are still working because you enjoy the work which is fabulous. If you hadn’t been an artist was there ever a different career path that might have taken your fancy ?

More than 100 books. One day Marc will create a site for me (nudge, nudge) and we’ll know for sure. The biggest challenge with my most recent book after many years in retirement was relearning how to turn my story into graphic ideas and then into finished color prints for submission. I had to track down professional color markers and bleed-proof paper—all things that are relics, since everything is done on the computer today. Fortunately, the materials I once used were still stocked at Blick Art Supplies.

Can you describe a typical day for you when you are working on a book? Does the process get easier the more that you create or is it still a challenge ?

It’s always a bigger challenge at 95. Should the dog look left or right? Should his tail wag or stay still? Hills in the background or not? A moon? Is my work any good? Will children get my humor or are they too sophisticated now? I went through a lot of paper trying to figure it all out. The process takes longer now, but my passion is still there as is my sense of humor and love of the adolescent spirit. But it’s definitely much more difficult, since emotions move faster than brainpower.

What advice would you give to a young artist who would love to follow in your footsteps today?

Observe how children play and note what makes them laugh. Don’t try to please them. Instead, speak their language with illustrations, include humor and leave room for their mental participation. That’s so important. Children are always smarter and more intuitive than we think. They’re naturally honest and kind and “get” things faster than adults. That’s because they are emotional first and think second. My kind of audience.

Many many thanks to Bernice for her incredibly lucid and inspirational answers. I applaud both your work and attitude, alogside the fact that you are still creating now. It shows that the need for talented artists never goes away and that many generations of readers, can appreciate and ‘adopt’ your work, as if it belonged only to themselves. What a lady !  Thank you also to Marc for making this post happen at all, what an inspirational role model you grew up with. I bet you can tell a good story too : )

So that was my last post and a bit of a SCOOP if I do say so myself. A Happy Christmas and festive break to all my readers. I will be taking a couple of weeks off to recharge myself, so let’s catch up in 2021 and hope that it’s a year of calm, better direction and a posititvity that seemed to escape us in 2020.

Please leave a comment below and you can follow me here and over on Instagram here at Fishinkblog, where I sell most of my ceramics.

Until I ‘see’ you next, all the very best and thanks as ever for reading, Craig x