Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Golden Years

Artist Richard Scarry
The Memorial Art Gallery
in the exhbition
Golden Legacy

At the Memorial Art Gallery I went around to look at the new show with docent Margaret Cochran.

We went to see the children's book illustrations from Golden Books, which has been a mainstay in America from the 1940's onward.    I had an intimate view of the show ( and the artwork is all small scale so you have to get in close to appreciate what the artists have accomplished ).

Golden Book of Birds ( not in this show ) by Arthur Singer

As I said to Margaret, I grew up with Golden Books - in part because my father, Arthur Singer, was under contract as a book illustrator with Golden which was associated with Simon & Schuster
and the company was later absorbed into Western Printing and Publishing.  The people that started the company included Georges Duplaix, and Albert R. Leventhal with editor Lucille Ogle.

Artist Tibor Gergely's " The Great Big Fire Engine Book

I later worked with Albert Leventhal and Lucille Ogle, when they went out on their own to establish Vineyard Books.  My book ( which put me through Graduate School at Cornell University ) was called "The Total Book of House Plants" and I diligently worked on the art until it was published in 1975.  Lucille Ogle was a visionary and it was largely due to her energies that the Little Golden Book came into existence, and her company prospered.  Over their lifetime, the authors, illustrators and company people associated with Golden sold over 500 million books ( and artist Richard Scarry alone sold over a hundred million copies of his books!  Not too shabby! ) My father, Arthur Singer, published a number of books with Golden, and was an art director there for a while during the 1960's.  His books were more oriented towards science - with birds and animals -  and they sold well also.

Artist Gustaf Tengren
illustrations for " The Lion's Paw " (1959 )

So, what was the secret to their success?  A clearly written short story, engaging realistic illustration, beautiful color printing, and a very low price.  In short, this is the kind of book that has mass appeal, and the books were carried by every bookstore that had a children's section - and every library and school across the country.

I also had a chance over the years to meet some of the illustrators who published under the Golden logo.  The art on view in the Memorial Art Gallery does give a visitor a sense of middle America in the 1950's - 1970's and beyond.  The Golden Books franchise changed hands over the years, as many institutions do and was gradually sold off in pieces and a lot of the artwork for their books was lost ( I heard a rumor that most of it was put in a dumpster - can you imagine that!? ).  In any case I am glad that someone had the foresight to save the art that we see - some of these pages bring back bright memories from childhood, and what could be better?

Japanese wood block artist Yoshitoshi

Down the hall at the Memorial Art Gallery, you can find in the little Lockhart Gallery a beautiful selection of prints from the 19th century artist Yoshitoshi.  If you like printmaking and you like arcane drama, don't miss this opportunity to see this portfolio of great prints by a real master.  Just take a look at the blind embossing that creates a texture on what this fellow is wearing - these prints are the forerunner of the manga - full of operatic sci-fi....

Also check out the Infinity boxes, just stick your head in and have a look around..  A Coney-Island of the mind..  Have Fun!