When an Artist Can’t Sleep: A Gift of Marcia Brown’s Drawings from John and Penny Solum

A portrait of Marcia Brown, winner of three Caldecott Medals, six Caldecott Honors, and twice nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

The papers of the celebrated American author/illustrator Marcia Brown (1918-2015) can be consulted in the special collections department of SUNY Albany, her alma mater.  But not everything is there now.  Today the Cotsen Children’s Library received a very special gift of Brown’s drawings from her long-time friends John  and Penny Solum, who are on campus this weekend for Reunions.  Earlier this year John and Penny had promised to deliver them to Firestone Friday morning before they went off to attend the festivities.

The Solums explained that after Marcia moved to Laguna Hills in California one of the ways she kept in touch was by sending special illustrated messages on birthdays or holidays.  I was expecting something like handmade cards inscribed with very personal messages.  Nothing that ordinary!  What Marcia made were a series of little albums, filled with colorful abstract drawings which she drew sitting on the edge of her bed when she couldn’t sleep.  We should all make such good use our time when we’re up in the middle of the night.

The style of her night drawings is delightfully different from the artwork in the picture books that made her famous.  It is fascinating to see how many styles an artist likes to work in.

The 1962 Caldecott winner, which just so happens to be about a tiger…

This picture of Cinderella from Brown’s 1955 Caldecott winner transported me as a child. I still think it beats a Disney princess cold!

Here are some samples from four of the albums the Solums brought today…  This one was sent at Christmas time in 2010.

And for Christmas 2011.

A third Christmas offering, but the inscription isn’t dated.

Last but not least, an Easter basket for the Solums.

Thank you, John and Penny, for comin’ back to Reunions this year!

A Field Guide to Fairies

Lucy Crane, The Baby’s Bouquet: A Fresh Bunch of Old Rhymes and Tunes. Illustrated by Walter Crane. London: George Routledge & Sons 1878 (Cotsen 21153).

Identifying the fairy in this famous illustration isn’t hard.   This next example isn’t difficult  either…

The fairy Cri-Cri. Fairy Tales, Consisting of Seven Delightful Stories. London: T. Hughes, 1829. (Cotsen 33142).

Don’t be too quick to say there aren’t any fairies in this lovely drawing by William Blake….

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing c.1786 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02686

Did Blake forget to draw the wings on the dancing fairies????   That’s a good question to which I don’t have a definitive answer.  But I think probably not, because eighteenth-century illustrations of fairies rarely have them (I confess I have not done a survey of illustrated editions of Pope’s Rape of the Lock).

Here is the plate illustrating “Peau d’ane” in an edition of Perrault’s Contes from 1798.  The girl with the donkey’s skin thrown over the blue dress must be the heroine, so the fairy has to be the lady in the rose gown with the billowing yellow scarf sitting in a cloud.  When goddesses appear to mortals, they frequently descend in clouds–but fairies?  Yes, they can, to quote Rose Fyleman..

“Peau d’ane,” in Charles Perrault, Contes des fees. Paris: Chez Devaux, 1798 (Cotsen 60006).

Of course fairies can disguise themselves to test mortals.  In Perrault’s “La fee,”  the girl  sent to the well by her cruel stepmother to draw water for the family pauses to give the poor old woman a drink, when she ought to hurry back home with the full pitcher. The reader can’t tell from this picture what the fairy looks like when she is not undercover as an old woman.  Nor does she reveal her true self later in the tale.

“The Fairy,” Charles Perrault, Histories, or Tales of Passed Times. Third edition, corrected. London: R. Montagu, and J. Pote at Eton, 1742 (Cotsen 25143).

Incidentally, this copy was owned by a Mary Fearman in the 1740s.  She tried to protect her property from the light-fingered by writing a book curse on the rear endpaper…

Cotsen 25143

The last item in this identification guide is one of my favorite books in Cotsen.  The frontispiece seems to be a very early picture of tiny wingless fairies dancing in a ring before their king and queen, who are the size of human beings.  The fairies are all wearing brimmed hats with steeple crowns–the kind of hat that witches wear.  Or Mother Goose…

d’Aulnoy, Mme. History of the Tales of the Fairies, newly done from the French. London: Eben. Tracy, 1716 (Cotsen 25203).

This translation of a selection of Mme d’Aulnoy’s fairy tales seems to have been someone’s prize possession, perhaps the George Jones who wrote his name in the back of the book.  George (or someone else) tried to copy a portion of the frontispiece on its blank side.

Cotsen 25203.

He also left traces at the very end of the  book.   The drawing on the top might be his take on a scene in Mme d’ Aulnoy”s “The Blue Bird.”

Cotsen 25203

Why did the appearance of fairies change so drastically over time?   Was it the influence of Victorian ballet and theatre productions, where fairies had gauzy wings attached to the shoulders of their costumes?  Perhaps some enterprising fairy tale scholar will concentrate on exploring the history of fairy wings…