In her unfortunately short life, Virginia Frances Sterrett fought to fulfill her desire to be an illustrator against the ravages of tuberculosis, which she contracted at the age of 19, the same year she received her first commission to illustrate a book, Old French Fairy Tales by Comtesse de Segur.
Sterrett was born in Chicago but grew up in Missouri and Kansas. Her father died when she was young. When she was 15 the family moved back to Chicago and, after high school and a stint doing advertising for a department store, she so impressed the Art Institute of Chicago with her abilities that they agreed to admit her and waive her tuition, which she could not have afforded.
Shortly thereafter, her mother became ill and she had to leave the school and work to support her family. It wasn’t long after that her own health began to fail. Though she recovered to a large extent after time in a sanatorium, and had several productive years, her life was cut short by the tuberculosis at the age of 31, just a few illustrations shy of completing Myths and Legends.
Sterrett’s fluid, colorful and elegantly designed compositions, which echo the Art Nouveau inflected illustrations of Golden Age greats like Kay Neilsen and Edmund Dulac, have a beautiful otherworldly quality. One can only imagine or hope that they in some way provided an escape for Sterrett from the harsh realities of her life.
Since her work was done in the early part of the 20th Century, the books are now in the public domain and you can read complete facsimiles of Tanglewood Tales and Old French Fairy Tales on the Internet Archive.
David Apatoff has an excellent post on Virginia Frances Sterrett on his always enlightening blog Illustration Art.