Alice and Martin Provensen were a devoted and charming married couple who were also both first-rate illustrators. They worked in tandem, mostly on children's books; and theirs was a true partnership of artistic equals. They never divulged which of them did what on their joint projects. After Marin died, Alice continued to produce imaginative books. The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen is the first monograph on the pair. It's a delight, with essays, photographs like a scrapbook of theirs and their daughter's lives, and generous high-quality reproductions from their many, many books. To flip through it, click here.
Picturing a World
Looking for bedtime-for-grownups reading, I pulled Elizabeth Goudge's novel, A City of Bells, from my shelf and noticed for the first time that the jacket illustration is signed by C. Walter Hodges—the illustrator of The Little White Horse. I had thought of Hodges primarily as a major researcher into Elizabethan theater; but it turns out, he had a highly productive career as an illustrator of children's books and jacket designer. This isn't really leading me anywhere except to ask, isn't it tantalizing to see various previously unrelated interests join up?
My recent interest in book jackets led me to an excellent group biography, Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship. Eric Ravilious lived and worked among artists and designers many of whom had studied or taught at the Royal College of Art in the 1920's. Contemporaries of the Bloomsbury set, they were just as bohemian and just as dedicated to their work; but they were not so, well, self-important. One artist who didn't make it into the biography, or at least under the name Claudia Guercio, designed the cover and this illustration for Ariel Poem #20, A Snowdrop by Walter de la Mare.
One of the first jacket illustrators that I became aware of was Carol Bascove—though I didn't know she was a she. The attribution was always simply to Bascove. What I knew was that Robertson Davies' new novels were always immediately identifiable because of the jackets. The Lyre of Orpheus is on my shelf. And now, just as I've become interested in illustrative jacket design, the Norman Rockwell Museum is devoting an entire show to her work. You can catch BASCOVE: The Time We Spend with Words any time between now and June 5, 2022. Yea!
CORRECTION: The artist's name is ANNE (not Carol) BASCOVE!!!!!!!!!!
When I was editing books at Harvard, an author came in one time and asked that a piece of antique Japanese silk be used for the jacket design. "Do you have one we can borrow?" my boss asked politely. That put an end to that and taught me that authors, by and large, should leave book production up to the pros.
While I was Buchaning around the web recently, Rockwell Kent's art for Mountain Meadow landed me in The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920–1970 by Martin Salisbury. I borrowed a copy from the library. As soon as I opened it, I was bowled over by the feel of its paper, the beauty of its page design, the clarity of its reproductions—not to mention the quality of the jacket designs it reproduces.
I have just finished my third reading of Sick Heart River by John Buchan, published as Mountain Meadow in America (always read it in winter!). The first time through, I thought it was one of the strangest and oddly powerful novels I'd ever encountered. I still do. The second time, I looked forward with relish to its strong evocations of bitter cold and the harsh beauty of the Canadian wilderness. It delivered. This third reading brought out for me its structure and a consequent narrative technique.
I have just reread Diana Wynne Jones's Deep Secret in the 2002 paperback edition with Charles Vess's perfect cover (a favorite author, favorite illustrator). What fun, then, to find this preliminary sketch with Vess's notation, "Irene—I like this idea: the hotel lobby w/ s/f con people (as well as our principle [sic] characters) checking in as Rob the centaur bursts from air. This is a pure white background w/ design elements a la Saturday Evening Post. Charles"
Russell Hoban is one of my favorite authors, with his offbeat imagination and mastery of style. He's best known for the dazzling, post-apocalyptic Riddley Walker. (My favorite may be the quieter Turtle Diary.) Anyway, sometime this year, I bought a used copy of The Mole Family's Christmas, put it aside unread, and forgot about it—then, luckily, found it again in time to read it last night as a Christmas Eve bedtime story.