When I was a kid I liked to read and I liked to look at pictures. Somewhere along the way I began to pay attention to the illustrations — probably thanks to my mother, who would have noticed how good they were and commented on it. And the best books, the great adventures and classics, had the most marvelous illustrations. In the 70s these became rather popular and a wonderful business called the Green Tiger Press produced beautiful postcards, calendars, and note cards of this under-appreciated art form. The press still exists (you can visit them here) but is not the same as it was in its heyday. My room was full of posters and framed prints like this one by Maxfield Parrish:
Yes, I had this framed. Mother painted the frame gold for me and I put it over the radiator in my room. Everyone thought it was a little weird, but for some reason, I just
loved love this picture. It’s sad — you can’t help but wonder why the king of the Black Isles is so upset. And you want to help him. It makes you hope that someone in the story will. The colors are so beautiful, too. I found it fascinating.
I loved to read classic tales like Kidnapped, but Robert Louis Stevenson could sometimes be hard going — N.C. Wyeth’s beautiful pictures brought the story to life. I was with David Balfour as he fled the enemy in the Highlands of Scotland. Books like this helped me connect with my own family history and appreciate the past. Okay, maybe in a romanticized way, but so what? At least I knew who Bonny Prince Charlie was.
Books and pictures introduced the exotic, too. And believe me, there wasn’t much exotic about the Midwest in the 1970s. Harems, Haroun Al-Rashid, magic carpets…they were all fascinating. It might sound trite to say that these pictures introduced me to beautiful and extraordinary things with magical possibilities, but they did. The great illustrators — Wyeth, Parrish, DuLac and Rackham among others — transformed a mundane world into a place of wonder. I still love them.
What were your childhood favorites?