Little Don Pedro (1965) and What Makes Day and Night (1961), illustrated by Helen Borten.
In the annals of vintage kiddie books, the name of Helen Borten is a lesser-known yet beloved one. The Philadelphia-based artist remains well-regarded for the beautifully composed, deceptively simple visuals she made for a series of science-instructional books in the 1960s. Franklyn M. Branley’s What Makes Day and Night is a typically lovely example. While Branley’s text teaches children about the earth’s rotation around the sun in a fun, accessible way, Borten’s illustrations visualize the concepts perfectly. Working with a limited color palette of black, red, and yellow, Borten does fantastic things with composition and texture – parts of it are rendered in a primitive-modern lines, while others have a tactile, woodblock feel. It’s wonderful.
In addition to science books, Ms. Borten illustrated across a wide swath of subjects. I wasn’t aware of this, however, which made it a special delight when coming across the story of Little Don Pedro by Helen Holland Graham. This 1965 effort revolves around a timid Mexican boy who bravely faces off against an escaped bull in his tiny village. Four years on from What Makes Day and Night, we find Borten continuing the clever use of limited colors (here, green joins the solid red-yellow-black family), while the subject matter brings out a looser style. I love this stuff! In 1968, she authored and illustrated a lovely looking book on animals, The Jungle, which is on my to-get list.
As far as I can tell, Ms. Borten is still active. Although she apparently left illustration behind for a successful career change into producing radio documentaries, hopefully she has some awareness of how well-regarded her art continues to be.
Source: Fishink – Helen Borten A Creative And Illustrative Genius. (July 5, 2012)
Last weekend, while cleaning out excess stuff in our garage, I came across this forgotten little acrylic-on-board study I once did back in the ’90s. Although the piece is somewhat derivative of Anthony Russo‘s art, it still appeals to what I’m continuing to strive for in art, and in life: simplicity. When doing art, the temptation is to keep adding on and adding on, when the most effective art (to me) continue to be the pieces that communicate an idea in just a few brush strokes or pen marks. Unfortunately, that concept is easier to think about than to actually do… but I keep trying.
That whole idea of whittling down a drawing to its essence also came to mind when I was perusing the illustrations for a piece of vintage paper ephemera that C. recently acquired. The imagery below comes from a booklet published by the Melamine Council to promote the proper use of plastic dinnerware. It might have been a lost cause in the ’50s and ’60s, trying to make these common household items look elegant and sophisticated, but in the context of this brochure it actually works – beautifully. The uncredited artist (or artists) did a masterful job of paring down the ideas of stylish living, feminine beauty, and cleanliness into simple – yet never simplistic – illustration.
Vintage postcard of Fantasyland in Disneyland, circa 1960.
Today I’m looking at artifacts from The Happiest Place On Earth™. As my first trip there in seven years plus six months approaches, I’m pretty excited. Last month, we went to a local paper memorabilia collectors’ show – and in anticipation, I scoured the dealers’ supply of vintage Disneyland postcards for stuff to add to my collection. Mostly I just look for interesting images of bygone attractions, meaning basically not-so-rare items like the Fantasyland one pictured above. There were several I wanted, but I ultimately ended up with the ones pictured here for under $20 – including the rarity seen at the end of this entry.
Chorus girls high kickin’ it at the Golden Horseshoe Revue. Most Disneyland postcards have some sense of the bustling activity of tourists at the park, but I kinda like how this one captures a laid-back dress rehearsal (or maybe it’s just a poorly attended performance). For this next trip, I’m planning to check out places like the G.H.R. that I wouldn’t normally seek out. Since this is one of the few spots in the park basically unchanged since the ’50s, I’m looking forward to checking it out (really, this postcard might look exactly the same photographed today in the same spot).
And now, a view that the Disney Co. suits have casually ruined! The two Mary Blair tile murals in Tomorrowland were among my favorite things in Disneyland as a child – riding the Peoplemover, craning to see all the details and colors in the tiles. Good times. I think Walt Disney understood that things like this, although they didn’t have a “spacey” feel that totally adhered to the tomorrow theme, accurately captured the optimism of the future. As for what they have there now, I don’t particularly care.
The entrance of Adventureland, captured at or around the time Disneyland first opened in 1955. The early D-land card have that sparse look, along with shoddier printing that accentuated the pink/magenta side of the color spectrum. This one was a little more pricey, but I’m so happy I bought it to go along with the early view of the Main Street horse-drawn carriage already in the postcard collection. At first I thought they changed this entrance somehow since then, but I think it’s the mature tropical foliage that has subsequently grown around the structure that makes it different looking.
A lot of Disneyland postcards have a standardized layout on the reverse side, but sometimes one finds a neat graphic like the Tinkerbell below, which was on the Fantasyland card at the top of this entry. What a cute way to say “wish you were here.”
John Alcorn “Birds & Beasts” illustration, 1966.
Browsing my contacts’ uploads at Pinterest, I was taken by some sweet, eye-catching art from illustrator John Alcorn. The imagery came from a 1966 book, The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs (which I tracked down – thank you, eBay). As someone who loves art inspired by that funky, stylish Push Pin Studios aesthetic, this volume was a winner. The 192-page book is a simple concept, presenting sheet music for classic kiddie singalongs such as “There Was An Old Lady” and “Did You Ever See A Lassie?” The retro display fonts and Alcorn’s inventive artwork complement the songs in a cute, very ’60s-patchwork kinda way.
Alcorn’s folksy, whimsical art made him a very active man in the ’60s and ’70s – his art graces the fabulous packaging for Eve cigarettes, for one. The Fireside project must have been a huge endeavor for him; just about every page is packed with drawings printed in hot pink, mustard gold and burnt orange. The sampling of pages pictured here nicely represent the book’s art, and yet I might break out the scanner and put some more on my flickr account. There’s a veritable bushel-full of wild, fun, inspirational imagery in here, which makes me happy I bought it.
The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs.
“The Animal Song”
“Good Morning and Good Night”
“All Through The Night”
“The World Turned Upside Down”
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.
Greetings and apologies for the site outage over the past week (did anybody even notice? I wonder). My website has been moved to a new web host, and there was a significant delay in transferring the MySQL system data that holds the backup info for this very blog. But now it’s done, and I’m relieved. What this means for you, dear reader, is that the weblog will load much smoother and there won’t be any tech difficulties in posting comments and such. If you’re reading this, please don’t hesitate to say “hello” in the comment field!
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at the two marvelous vintage greeting cards I found on our recent thrifting jaunt in Palm Springs. Both of these are likely from the late ’60s, and are printed with a day-glo pink color that my scanner couldn’t quite pick up. Our first card is actually kind of lovely, since the cartoon illustration was printed on yellow ocher-colored paper using bright silk screened inks. This was produced by a company called Velvetone and the cartoon is signed “Camden,” otherwise I can’t find any info on it. Can you tell what it says inside?
a big THANKS!
Our next card is from a maker called Reed Starline. I originally thought was a vintage Hallmark (the goofy cartoon looks similar to a lot of older cards that Hallmark has been re-printing lately). Again with the day-glo pink, although the cartoon looks more Mad magazine-y:
*PICTURE OF ME GOING HOG WILD OVER YOU