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Margery Gill Mid Century Book Illustrator

June 8, 2020

Happy Start to the week everyone and I hope this finds you well. Before I show today’s guest illustrator, I would like to tell you about an exciting event that is happening this coming Saturday 13th June. Ok apart from the Queen’s official Birthday (lol). I am hosting my first sale of Fishink Ceramics on my Instagram account @fishinkblog between 10am and 4pm GMT, in my stories and on my feed.  As long as my final firing goes to plan today (crosses flippers) there will be a host of Ceramic Retro Birds, Fish, funky bird shapes and new Cat / Dog plaques suitable to hang on your wall.

It would be fab if you could drop by, say hello, leave a like or perhaps make a purchase for yourself or a present for a friend, it all helps so much and also allows me continue to work, live and run this blog.

Look forward to seeing you there and please follow me on instagram and tell your friends who may like my work, to do the same, many thanks Craig.

Ok on with the post today and I’m talking about an illustrator who many Enid Blyton fans may remember.

Margery Jean Gill (5 April 1925 – 31 October 2008) was a British illustrator of children’s books.

Born in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, Scotland, on 5 April 1925, she was brought up in Hatch End, London after her father Oscar moved there to take a job at the Post Office Research Station developing the speaking clock.

She left school at 14 and took a place at Harrow School of Art. In 1946 she began studying etching and engraving at the Royal College of Art, married actor Patrick Jordan, and illustrated her first book, Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, for the Oxford University Press.

After a series of commissions for the Oxford University Press, Gill began an association with The Bodley Head, for whom she illustrated over thirty books between 1957 and 1982, including Margaret Kornitzer’s 1960 novel about adoption, Mr Fairweather and his Family, and books by Anita Hewett, Roger Lancelyn Green and others. John Ryder, the publisher’s design and art director, said her early work was “interfered with, rather than aided” by her background in etching and engraving, but as her drawings became bolder her work became more in demand, her serious, unsentimental view of childhood suiting the kitchen sink realism prevalent in children’s books at the time. She remarked “that is often how children are — taking their own lives seriously”.

Eleanor Graham, the founding editor of Puffin Books, also sought her out to illustrate books including  A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Gill’s lack of recognition was cruelly underlined, when a 1961 edition of this book was reissued as a Puffin Classic. Margery’s 24 pen-and-ink illustrations for the book were among her best work, but on the title page her surname was mistakenly printed as Hill.

She worked for numerous other publishers, including Jonathan Cape, for whom she illustrated Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone in 1965, and Chatto & Windus, for whom she illustrated Cooper’s Dawn of Fear in 1972, drawing on her own memories of living in London during the Second World War.

I love her interpretations (below) for Susan Cooper’s classic first book in ‘The Dark is Rising’ series of books, “Over Sea Under Stone’.

Cooper said of her work on Dawn of Fear, “She caught the image of the kids I was writing about perfectly, with no communication. That does huge things for the confidence of a writer.” She illustrated A Candle in Her Room for Gollancz in 1966. She would often travel to capture the landscape and setting of books she illustrated, particularly those by Ruth Arthur and William Mayne, and for this reason a German publisher commissioned her to illustrate a German translation of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons.

During the 1960s Gill was working in colour and had become one of Bodley Head’s prized possessions – she was hugely sought-after as publishers began to explore working class lives in children’s literature. In his obituary written in 2008, Matthew Weaver made this astute observation: “Her sometimes solemn drawings of children underlined a new attitude to the young. Children were no longer to be talked down to, but taken seriously. Margery’s drawings, which presented a lively and unsanitised view of childhood, were in vogue. But always modest, she shunned the opportunity to exhibit her work “

Gill didn’t always find the creative process easy and would often go through periods of despair when she would threaten to destroy all her work. But ultimately she was prolific and clearly she saw her drawing as fundamentally important to her: Every drawing is a fight which I really enjoy. I enjoy, too, the failures, and starting again ” 

But by the early 1970s the prevailing fashions in book illustration were beginning to change and there was a declining demand for Gill’s social realism. Her output declined significantly and ill health – breast cancer and arthritis – meant her last book was illustrated in 1985.

She combined freelance work as an illustrator with motherhood – she had two daughters – and a teaching job at Maidstone College of Art. From 1969 she and her husband lived in Alpheton in Suffolk. As the 1970s went on her work fell out of fashion as publishers preferred cartoonier illustrations for children’s books, and her output was slowed by arthritis in her hands, and in her later years, cataracts. The last book she illustrated was Anne Thwaite’s Pennies for the Dog in 1985. She did voluntary work in her retirement, including charity collections and Meals on Wheels. She died on 31 October 2008, survived by her husband, the older of their two daughter, (their younger daughter died in 1996), four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

She was admired by fellow illustrator Shirley Hughes, who said “I thought her work was terrific. It made me look to my laurels. It was modern – the children she depicted were less sweet. Margery used solid black line with tremendous fluidity and ease: the way her children stood and moved was very distinctive”.

Many thanks to Wikipedia for the information used in this post.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2020 8:06 pm

    Oh my, I loved so many of these books growing up and still have several in my collection of children’s books.

  2. June 17, 2020 1:55 am

    As I scrolled down, I tried to recall if I had read any of those books, but I think not. Margery’s work was really expressive.

  3. January 17, 2021 1:47 am

    I have five books illustrated by Margery Gill. Thank you for writing this wonderful article about her.

    • January 17, 2021 9:27 am

      You are welcome Amy, I hope you look at the book illustrations with fresh eyes now !

  4. amyrjw permalink
    January 17, 2021 3:01 am

    Thanks for this wonderful interesting article about Margery Gill. I have at least five books illustrated by her. I landed on your blog via looking for ceramics by David Gil, a mid-century USA artist. As I am part of a very active children’s book group on FB, I intend to share your blog post there.

  5. Leslie permalink
    February 21, 2021 8:17 pm

    I was wondering where her original artwork is – whether there’s a library that has her papers. Do you know?

    • February 22, 2021 11:05 am

      Sorry I don’t know. Good luck with your searches.

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