Readers ask about WWII artifacts, Wyeth book & Searles art
  • Reader asks about books illustrated by N.C. Wyeth
  • African Americans who sat for Andrew Wyeth
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    Auction Finds

    The book art of NC Wyeth

    For years, I collected children’s books illustrated by African American artists. I imagined that that these artists found it liberating to be painting for children, their stories simple yet imaginative.

    I’ve never found any of those books at auction, but I’ve always kept my eye out for them and any others illustrated by famed artists. So I was delighted some time ago when I came across a lot of six books illustrated by artist N.C. Wyeth. I knew I had to have them, because I love the works of Wyeth and his son Andrew. Their paintings are so real (yet their styles very different) that I feel like I’m inside their canvases, participating in whatever their characters are doing. In the case of Andrew, I feel like I know these people.

    I won the bidding on the books and walked away with them as if I’d just won first prize. I didn’t know if any of them were first editions, but that didn’t matter because I was buying the artist.

    A 1933 edition of “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson was among the lot. Wyeth illustrated the book in 1911, and the illustrations are considered to be some of his best work. He created 17 canvases, making enough money to buy 18 acres of land in Chadds Ford, Pa., to build his dream home and studio. The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford has several of his original illustrations in its permanent collection, including those for “Kidnapped,” “The Black Arrow,” “The Boy’s King Arthur” and “The Last of the Mohicans.”

    I recently had the joy of experiencing Wyeths’ take on Stevenson’s tale of pirates and gold in “Treasure Island.” I was at the museum for another exhibit and wandered into a room that held several oil-on-canvas paintings that Wyeth made for the book. I always want to “see” the illustrations in their original size, and this exhibit was a treat for me.

    I met one woman who, too, found the paintings amazing, so much so that she was inspired to go home and read the book – which she had never done. I read it as a child (I recall wanting to write my own treasure-hunt play and have my cousins act it out), and I understood what she was talking about. These paintings evoke curiosity in you.

    Hung there on the wall was the inside-cover illustration that led the book: the mutineers charging forward toward the edge of the page, barefooted and shoe-ed, weapons at the ready, birds flying overhead, behind them a background the color of a yellowed sun. Like the woman visitor, I stopped and lingered at each of the paintings, taking in the details and the awesomeness of Wyeth’s hand.

    The other illustrations from the book included:

    Captain Smollet defies the mutineers (caption from the book: then, climbing on the roof, he had with his own hand bent and run up the colors)

    The attack on the block house (the boarders swarmed over the fence like monkeys)

    Long John Silver and Hawkins (To me he was unweariedly kind; and always glad to see me in the galley)

     

    The hostage (For all the world, I was led like a dancing bear)

    This book, though, was not my only treasure from the auction. Here are the others, all published by Charles Scribner’s, several as part of Scribner’s Illustrated Classics for Young Readers:

    “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1929.

    “Drums” by James Boyd, 1928.

    “The Scottish Chiefs” by Jane Porter, 1925.

    “Jinglebob” by Philip Ashton Rollins, 1930.

    “David Balfour” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I was a bit confused about the copyright date on this one. On one page (which has a color plate) at the front of the book is the date MCMXLI. Flip the page and I see the date 1946. Not sure what that’s about.

    Many of us read some of these books in school. Interestingly, I found a piece of memorabilia from one child’s school days inside the pages of  “Treasure Island.” It was an English grammar review on the objective case of nouns.

    What memories.

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