Reviews 2008

Drawn to Enchant

Drawn to Enchant: Original Children’s Book Art in the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection. Timothy G. Young. With the assistance of Patrick Kiley. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007. 223 pages. USD 45 (hardback).

This is the first volume of a projected series of catalogues documenting the extraordinary Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection. The book covers the original artwork held in the Shirley Collection. Thousands of volumes of books and manuscripts are also held at Yale in a collection built up over some 35 years or so by all accounts, passionate and tenacious acquirer and scholar. It seems that Betsy Beinecke Shirley decided one day that she would collect children’s books. The private collection quickly became an obsession, one that was generously made available to scholars and loaned regularly for exhibition.

Drawn to Enchant covers the original artwork held in the Shirley Collection. The large scale, hardback format of this book does full justice to the artwork. It is beautifully produced, with illustrated cover boards, dust jacket and quality paper and binding. As the curator of the collection, Timothy G. Young, points out in the excellent introduction, the book is organised into sections roughly by theme. The sections loosely proceed by age-level beginning with ABCs followed by nursery themes, and fairy tales and goes onwards through historical themes, comics and humour and so on. The actual quality of the items in the collection varies enormously to include what might be described as workaday ‘jobbing’ illustration alongside work by some of the finest illustrative artists of their times, including George Cruikshank, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell and the great N.C. Wyeth. This apparent anomaly makes the book all the more interesting as a historical document, as does the inclusion of numerous rough designs and working drawings, frequently covered with the artist’s notes and comments. Often the initial studies are shown alongside final artwork and printed outcomes, giving real insight into the artists’ working methods. Brief but highly informative contextual commentary is provided throughout along with information on media used in the creation of the artworks. One (one minor criticism here – I would like to have known the size of each original, given the wide variation of scale of reproduction). Mini biographies of the artists are contained in a section at the back of the book, with a handful of omissions due to a lack of documented information on some of the more obscure artists.

The increasing interest in the art of children’s book illustration will be well served by this (it i’s hard to avoid the word ‘handsome’) new volume. It will be of interest and use to both scholars and practitioners.

Martin Salisbury
Anglia Ruskin University, England