Friday, January 20, 2012

Barbara Cooney in Black and White

In a career that spanned six decades, artist Barbara Cooney (1917-2000) illustrated over one hundred children's books. She twice received the Caldecott award for best picture book, in 1957 for "Chanticleer and the Fox," and in 1979 for "Ox-Cart Man," by Donald Hall.  I first became aware of her books while I was working in a bookstore in Washington state. I think the first one that I read was "Miss Rumphius," her 1982 American Book Award winning story of a woman who sets out to make the world a more beautiful place by planting lupines everywhere. Cooney considered this book to be a part of what she called her trilogy, which also contained "Island Boy" (1988) and "Hattie and the Wild Waves" (1990).  In the book "Children's Books and Their Creators," edited by Anita Silvey,  Cooney is quoted as saying that the books in this trilogy "come as close to any autobiography as I will ever get."

Miss Rumphius and her later books were created in color using acrylic paint and Prismacolor pencils, but some of her earlier works were done in black and white.  On a recent trip to our public library's children's classics section, I discovered one of her earlier books, a 1949 compilation of stories and poems compiled by the Child Association of America, called "Read Me Another Story." This book is filled with charming scratchboard illustrations that give us a glimpse into Cooney's style from the first decade of her illustration career.

Here is how Cooney described the beginnings of her career: "In the beginning I worked in black and white, that being the most economical for the publisher. I yearned for color. 'But,' said my editor, 'you have no color sense.' Still yearning for color, I accepted the discouraging pronouncement. Eventually a little color was allowed - sometimes two colors, sometimes three. But each color had to be painted on a separate sheet of paper. These were called 'overlays.' One art director hoped to convince me that working with these separations was 'the purest form of illustration.' But I found it tedious."

Looking at these beautiful black and white illustrations from "Read Me Another Story," I don't think that the addition of color would add anything to their charm.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a talented lady, beautiful illustrations, thanks for sharing them Vincent.