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Category Archives: Rubylith

A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books

Endpapers, A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books (2012).

Shortly after being gifted with a nice, hefty Amazon gift card last month (thank you, Mom and Dad), the beautiful hardback collection A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books was the first thing I ended up choosing. While the immensely talented Mary Blair (1911-1978) is perhaps best known for her involvement with Walt Disney’s films and theme park attractions, she actually had a successful non-Disney career as an illustrator in the ’50s and ’60s. Treasury draws from this aspect of Blair’s art, reprinting the colorful, charming work she did for the Little Golden Book company. Along with a brief intro from animation historian John Canemaker, the book includes the full contents of four of her beloved Golden books – Baby’s House (1950), I Can Fly (1950), The Golden Book of Little Verses (1953), and The Up and Down Book (1964). Well-chosen selections from a fifth book, The New Golden Song Book (1955), are also included.

The first thing about A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books that struck me was how physically big it is – pages that were originally published in the classic, kid-sized Little Golden Books format are enlarged here by roughly a third. Another pleasant surprise is that much of the artwork is sourced from Blair’s original paintings, rendered in brilliant gouache. It really allows artsy nerds to get in there and study her technique. A few of the I Can Fly pages are lesser-quality scans from book pages, but at least they look as nice as they can (no noticeable moiré patterns or off-set colors). The artwork is pretty nifty, overall. I particularly enjoyed the pages from The Up and Down Book, since it shows her experimenting with a more graphic, simplified (yet still quintessentially Mary Blair-ish) style. Her work from the Golden Song Book is also notable for its wonderful intricacies and the skillful way some of it employs just two colors.

Paging through A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books makes it obvious why she continues to inspire artists and craftspeople. The book is available here (at a good price, I must add) at

Learning About Art & Design, 1960 Style

Another swellerific Flickr set – filler cartoons from the index and dictionary of the Famous Artists course, 1960 edition. This particular copy I came across had the student’s name embossed on the cover… which kinda makes me wonder if Alita Knowlton got a chuckle or two from these little gags.

While the book doesn’t credit the artist who did these cartoons, they’re pretty wonderful. I scanned all 30 or so of them for the Flickr set; some highlights are below.

Flickr Friday: Rand Does Mencken

Yesterday, Christopher and I had a “business” meeting out in Scottsdale. On our way out there, we stopped at the local Goodwill. The ‘will in Scottsdale is a pretty interesting place, since it’s huge and tends to have some older stuff (78 RPM albums, pre-WWII era books) that one usually doesn’t find in thrifts. One such item I picked up is this paperback book, H. L. Mencken’s Prejudices: A Selection, with a cover designed by modern design icon Paul Rand. Although I’ve seen this cover reproduced in design books, one thing I didn’t notice until buying this copy is that Rand actually put his signature in the design. How unusual is that? Either Rand had a big ego or the book’s publisher thought his name would help sell books.

In looking through his work, I noticed that Rand signed his work as early as 1938. I suppose he was an early adopter of the concept of branding.

Norman Rockwell’s Adventures

I picked up Norman Rockwell’s 1960 memoir My Adventures as an Illustrator at the yearly book sale we have near our house early this year, thinking it might be interesting. Having just finished it, I can say it was quite enjoyable. Rockwell is surprisingly engaging and self-deprecating as a writer. With someone like Rockwell, it’s often difficult to separate the man from the iconic imagery he’s known for. From Rockwell’s perspective, he was merely a working artist who filled a need for magazine editors and clients hungry for that sentimental, apple pie Americana. The only regret that he seems to have is that he entered the field a little later than the true Golden Age of Illustration in the early 1900s, when the men he admired were in full bloom. His own body of work was nothing to sneeze at, of course. When he wrote this book, at the age of about 66, he was still thinking he had some refinements to do with his painting technique. Incredible! And this was a few years before he did some of his more stunning works, such as the one of the little black girl walking to school.

Interestingly, I always hated Rockwell’s stuff as a kid. My mom used to have the Rockwell placemats, coffee mugs, plates, etc. all around the house and it made me want to gag. She also gave me a book with large-scale reproductions of his work, when I was in high school and into much cooler artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein. I read that one, however, and begrudgingly came to admire the guy and his incredible technique. When a Rockwell retrospective came to the local art museum a few years back, we went and enjoyed it thoroughly. It was truly a window on another era.

My Adventures as an Illustrator is a little too rambling and inconsistent to totally recommend, but it does have a few absorbing chapters – and I enjoyed the looser, cuter art he did for the chapter headings. One highlight comes where he recalls his friendship with the great illustrator J. C. Leyendecker, and the sad decline of his career due to changing tastes and the stranglehold that his lover/business partner Charles Beach had on him. Another interesting chapter takes the form of a daily diary chronicling the making of what was then his newest Saturday Evening Post cover (and a personal favorite), The Family Tree. In the preliminary sketch and final art below, one can see the various details he adjusted along the way.

Flickr Friday: Amos Tutuola Paperback Book Cover

Seems like I’ve had this copy of Amos Tutuola’s novelette The Palm-Wine Drinkard forever without ever actually having read it. The striking black and orange cover design by Roy Kuhlman might be the reason why I’m still holding on. A Pinterest search on Kuhlman reveals many of the other bright, jazzy designs he did for Grove Press in the ’50s.

Flickr Friday: Beany & Cecil Book

Every time we go thrifting, I head straight for the books. Mostly I come across the same junk as always, but occasionally I will come across a battered old kiddie book with cool illustrations. Bob Clampett’s Beany: Cecil Captured for the Zoo, published by Whitman in 1954, was a good recent find (and only 49 cents, too!). Although it had its share of wear and tear, the pages were complete and surprisingly free of food stains, crayon marks or other childhood detritus. These little “Tell-a-Tell” books were fairly popular over a long period of time (I remember them in the mid-’70s). As with the Beany & Cecil, they often used popular animated cartoon characters — and yet the illustrations had that standard “Whitman” look.

Along with the front and back cover, some of my favorite pages from Bob Clampett’s Beany: Cecil Captured for the Zoo got uploaded to the flickr photostream: