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20th Century American Illustration: Celebrating the Artist as Star, Contemporary Trends and Gems of the Art of Illustration
Third Floor Gallery
December 1998-January 11, 1999

The Newark Public Library announces an exhibition "20th Century American Illustration" on view until January 9th, 1999 in its Third Floor Gallery at 5 Washington Street in downtown Newark. The exhibition of books, prints, posters and paper ephemera on the topic celebrates the illustrator as a star of the art world, discusses contemporary trends and includes a few real gems of the art of illustration in the USA over the past one hundred years. The show was selected and curated by William J. Dane, Supervisor of Special Collections and Keeper of Prints and Posters at The Library.

Among the many topics covered in this survey show which has something to appeal to just about everybody are covers of popular magazines from the 1920s and 1930s, the art of silhouettes illustration, and alphabet books which frequently launch young readers into orbit in the world of books and reading as a popular pastime. Other major topics covered are photographs in books which were filmed as highly popular Hollywood productions mostly in the era of silent films of the 1920s. These include "Ben-Hur" from 1926, "Wings" with Clara Bow and Gary Cooper in a bit part, the controversial "Birth of A Nation" and "Hurricane" from 1937 which launched Dorothy Lamour as a major film star. These illustrated versions of popular literature were a form of advertising to insure the success of the filmed version of the story. Other books demonstrate the sharp rise in the publishing and reading world for literature relating to African and African American history, biography and the customs of other times and lands. The market for information and related reading concerning the African-American experience is tremendous and growing thus providing creative and financial opportunities for writers, researches, poets and picture specialists as well as illustrators.

Legendary illustrators who are household names are presented as star creators of the popular art world. These include John Held, Jr., Rockwell Kent, Edward Gorey active today, and Maxfield Parrish. In 1903, the first color illustrations by Parrish appeared in Edith Wharton's "Italian Villas" and in 1906, he painted his well known mural decorations on the theme of Old King Cola for the Knickerbocker Hotel (later the St. Regis) in New York City. During the next decades, he did dozens of covers for magazines and advertisements that established the public image for several major manufacturers. The enormous contribution of Walt Disney and his production crews to the art of illustration is featured in four drawings on celluloid for his celebrated film "Snow White". Jessie Willcox Smith specialized in idealized children. She had a special affinity with capturing the look and wide appeal of the very young. Some of Smith's best known illustrations ware for hard cover books by other authors such as "Little Women", "Heidi", and Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses.' She was also commissioned to paint many illustrations for magazines such as the popular "McClure's" in addition of nearly 200 covers for "Good Housekeeping." One of her watercolor illustrations recently sold at a New York auction for ninety thousand dollars. Other illustrated works by Rudolph Ruzicka, Wanda Gag, and Don Freeman represent artists whose illustrations made them very well known in their own time.

Another segment of the exhibition features images of fairies and fairy lore which have universal appeal arousing fantasy and shades of mysterious happenings for viewers young and old. Since the dawn of time in every part of the world, fairies have been part of our collective consciousness, from Greek nymphs, Norwegian trolls, Arabian jinn and Irish leprechauns. Often they are believed to be tiny, truly magical beings from unknown realms who reveal themselves to mortals only rarely.

Of universal acclaim are the many illustrations of Norman Rockwell whose work represents the peak of accomplishment and popularity in the world of outstanding illustrations which truly captured the imaginations of millions upon millions of American readers in the 20th century. In 1942, Rockwell was requested by the Federal government to create illustrations in poster format to represent "The Four Freedoms" so essential to American life. The posters from this era are indeed a highlight of this exhibition. For Thanksgiving in 1951, Rockwell drew an illustration entitled "Saying Grace". It has been called "a quiet sermon in paint." The senior Vermont woman who posed for this picture, died five days before the magazine cover appeared, but her friends recall that her visit to Norman Rockwell's studio to see the finished canvas was one of the high moments of her life. There are a number of highlights in this show which includes over 200 books, posters, original prints and other unique items from the various Special Collections of The Newark Public Library.

View additional illustrations from the exhibit.


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