Juliet Kepes Book illustrator, painter and sculptor
Juliet Kepes (née Appleby) studied at Brighton School in the later 1930s, before moving to the United States in 1937 where she studied at the the ‘New Bauhaus’ in Chicago (known subsequently as the Chicago Institute of Design), established by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in the same year.
By chance in 1936, in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, she had met her husband, Gyorgy Kepes, a Hungarian artist who had studied under Moholy Nagy in Germany. They fell in love and, when he was invited to teach at the ‘New Bauhaus’, he asked her to go with him: he taught and she studied. They subsequently moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he became Professor of Visual Design (1946-74) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founded the Center for Advanced Studies in 1967. The couple created a stimulating and whimsical playroom in their home. The room was meant to develop the muscles and senses of their five year old daughter Julie. The Kepeses claimed ‘ The first years are a time of concentrated learning and development. They should also be a time of wonder and delight’ The playroom was celebrated in Life magazine with a photo essay in 1949.
In the early 1950s Juliet began writing and illustrating children’s books, the first of which wasFive Little Monkeys (1952) that she had been working on for a number of years. I see similarities in style to the work of Roger Duvoisin who was also illustrating children’s picture books at this time.
This was considered innovative in its use of expressive, almost calligraphic brushwork, colour and overall design qualities, in 1953 it won a Caldecott Medal, an award presented annually to the illustrators of the most distinguished picture books published in the United States. The subject matter of many of her illustrations included insects, birds and other creatures such as ladybirds and frogs. Juliet also illustrated the work of other writers, such as William Smith’s Laughing Time (1953)
and Boy Blue’s Book of Beasts (1957) or Emilie Macleod’s The Seven Remarkable Bears (1954). In 1962 she received a citation from the Society of Illustrators for her book Frogs Merry (1961), whilst three of her other works, including Beasts from a Brush (1955), were nominated amongst the New York Times’ Ten Best Children’s Books of the Year.
Juliet also collaborated with her husband on a number of public projects including a series of experimental enamel panels of bird and tree designs for the Morse School, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1955), commissioned by the school’s architect. Carl Koch. She also designed a series of bronze birds in flight (1980). set against a wall of a playground at Clarendon Park Avenue, Cambridge. They were commissioned by the Cambridge Arts Council and funded by the Vingo Trust. Her drawings and paintings were exhibited widely, including exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, Baltimore Museum, Worcester Museum and the Gropper Art Gallery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Many thanks to the Faculty of Art at the University of Brighton for the information for this post.