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!