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Illustrating books


an illustration by Adam Rex from Ste-e-e-e-eamboat A-Comin’! by Jill Esbaum
What with the last post on book art, it seemed only appropriate to throw in a couple of other book-related shows.

Some swell, retro-looking illustrations by Adam Rex are now up at the Green Line Cafe, made for “Ste-e-e-e-eamboat A-Comin’!” by Jill Esbaum. Rex, who moved to West Philadelphia a couple of years ago, has a number of book illustration jobs under his belt. The ones at Green Line are beautifully painted and drafted and give the sense of an old-fashioned, safe world for children to have adventures with their dogs and wonder about unfamiliar places like the river and its steamboats. I loved these.

Caption: She was thinking of a battered and empty park theatre trunk alone in a dusty attic; illustration by Anna Whelan Betts for Caroline of Courtlandt Street, by Weymar Jay Mills

And speaking of illustration art, while I was at the Free Library for the Bound/Unbound show (post here), I also stopped at the Brandywine Women Artists exhibit of work by Howard Pyle’s students at the Drexel Institue of Art, Science and Industry. Included were works by Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Willcox Smith, part of a collection donated by Thorton Oakley, also a Pyle student. The exhibit is up in the Rare Books Department of the Free Library‘s Central Branch until July 21.

Largely illustrative and showcased in table vitrines, the work was accomplished and charming, but often sentimental and dated. It made me aware of how illustrations respond to fashions. I especially enjoyed seeing illustrations familiar to me from my childhood–Mother Goose, Robin Hood, etc. I began thinking about how illustrative Andrew Wyeth is, and how a retro book like “Ste-e-e-e-eamboat A-Comin’!” seems not so much dated as stylish.

But none of these artists was aiming for reality and big thoughts about reality. They were aiming to tell a story. And that’s what they did, quite nicely, thank you.

The dog, on the other hand, well, everyone loves a dog, symbol of the human condition.