At the same time it’s showcasing one of the most famous artists in America (see my previous post on Andrew Wyeth, below), the Brandywine River Museum in Pennsylvania is focusing attention on an artist who has gone largely ignored for the last 40 years.
Children’s book illustrator Dorothy Lathrop was well recognized during the prime years of her career, which extended from the end of the “Golden Age” of American illustration, in the beginning of the 1900’s, well into the middle of the century.
Lathrop was the first winner of the Caldecott Medal, given each year since 1938 for the artist of the “most distinguished American picture book for children”. She also won the Newberry Medal and a Library of Congress prize.
Her style varied significantly over the years, showing influences from divers sources like Art Nouveau and illustrators Jessie Wilcox Smith, Maxfield Parrish, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielsen.
Her choice of materials varied widely as well, from soft pencil drawings of children and animals, to brilliant watercolors of fairy princesses, oil for larger works and pen and ink for much of her black and white work. Many of her pen and ink illustrations used large areas of black with objects or lines in white, often looking like scratchboard, although it wasn’t as far as I can tell.
In the mid-30’s printing processes changed in a way that allowed her to switch her primary medium from pen and ink to lithographic pencil, which became a signature of her mature style. When used on a textured surface like coquille board, litho pencil (or litho crayon) can produce a pattern of small black marks almost like pen and ink stipple (see my post on Virgil Finlay). Most importantly, the pattern of black and white marks can be reproduced in print without the use of halftone screens. The lithographic pencil also allowed her to achieve delicate effects and a broad range of tone, as well as eye-pleasing textures.
Here is the press release about the exhibit from the museum (not illustrated), and some illustrated articles on Lathrop: A nice illustrated Lathrop bio from Bud Plant Illustrated Books and an illustrated Lathrop bio from Ortakales.com’s excellent gallery of Women Children’s Book Illustrators