Beulah Campbell Collection


Introduction to the Beulah Campbell Collection

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Beulah Campbell

This photograph of Beulah Campbell was taken in 1977 or 1978 in Edwin
Duncan Hall when she was teaching her Children's Literature classes.
The picture she is holding is by the illustrator Symeon Shimin and is found
in the book Sam by Ann Herbert Scott. We do not have this particular image
in our collection as it is in her personal collection.

 

Beulah Campbell was an innovative, highly respected instructor at Appalachian State Teachers College and its successor, Appalachian State University.  Her love of children’s literature led to a growing interest in the artistic and cultural value of the illustrations that embellished many of these works. In the 1970s she began to build a personal collection of these works which she used to supplement and enhance in her teaching. The long established Kate Greenaway and Caldecott awards, recognizing innovation and excellence in children’s book illustration, helped focus Campbell’s collecting towards these award winning artists.

The 1970s were an opportune decade to begin building such a collection. Children’s literature reflected the political and social struggles for racial equality and women’s rights, and illustrators searched to find images that reflected the authors story lines. At the same time, these artists consciously expanded the images to reflect a greater range of ethnicity in response to the call for more cultural diversity.The Beulah Campbell’s collection also, coincided with important technological changes in methods and techniques in creating and printing book illustrations.

C. Walter Hodges, who was considered an authority on Shakespearean Theatre, wrote and illustrated a number of books on the subject. Ms Campbell’s collection includes the complete dummy and some of the final artwork for one of the spreads for his book, Shakespeare’s Theatre. This set of illustrations, like stills from a silent movie, capture the life and times of a London from a very different century, yet one that is instantly recognizable now with the current Globe Theatre in operation. This set also provides an example of composition and layout of an illustrated work prior to the introduction of software programs and hardware that now allow layout of text and picture to occur seamlessly.

Illustration that had hitherto reflected European models, was gradually moving toward celebrating the American subjects. Regional legends were retold for children set in authentic landscapes of forest, plain and dessert. James Daugherty, an early proponent of this movement, returned to the United States of America and, drawing on his European experience, and his exposure to the artistic visions of Matisse and Cezanne, began to translate them into a thoroughly American vocabulary in subjects such as Daniel Boone and Railroad to Freedom. His illustrative style, called American Modernism was recognizable for its swirling forms, massive figures, and fluid rhythms.

Another flood of immigrants, caused by the disruptions of World War, participated in the changing artistic styles and subject matter of illustrations for children’s books reminding Americans of their multi cultural heritage. Artists fleeing central Europe for the England and America brought to their adopted countries perspectives shaped by their experience during the war and its immediate aftermath. Eric Carle remembered the “grey” Germany of his childhood and, in response, paints and illustrates in brilliant colors in defiance of those images he left behind. He presents “a world beguilingly vast yet fundamentally safe and hospitable.”  His illustrations can appear deceptively simple, but, as Maurice Sendak has said, “it is not an easy thing to present something so simple, so seamless.”

Jan Pienkowski had his roots in Warsaw, Poland, before coming to the UK. As a child he watched with fascination the working tradition that cut out paper curtains and decorated mantelpieces and shelves with delicately cut paper. Puppetry and silhouettes is a very old tradition in many parts of the world and its influence is seen in animated, as well as printed, folk tales and cartoons that still are produced today. David Macauley commented on the impact on his young mind seeing his parents make something from “scratch”; so again the relevance of exposing children to original artwork cannot be underrated.

Symeon Shimin drew and painted from a deep knowledge of his Jewish heritage and also as a close observer of the immigrant experience. His empathy and respect for Mexican-Americans are evident in his illustrations for Coyote Cry and his illustrations for the Tobias’ biography of Marian Anderson and for Hamilton’s novel Zeely shimmer with intensity in the original paintings. He creates a wondrous mood showing us a vision, with his artistic skills, that transforms the commonplace into something extraordinary and memorable. It is noteworthy also that in a number of instances the original art is far larger in scale than the final version, and in some cases also different in its coloring. Shimin hoped to capture as much of the lines and details in the final image by using this scale. Now of course, with digital cameras the smallest hair can be visible. Book illustration on this scale has a resonance, especially for children who have little or no access to original art that depicts with equal strength something of their culture, their heroes. Hardie Gramatky claimed that his illustrative style was influenced by comic book illustration and the animation techniques of the Disney studios where he had worked. His double page gouache illustration in the book Little Toot on the Mississippi hardly does justice to the lush undergrowth in the original painting.

Leo and Diane Dillon have collaborated on so many books and always these illustrations are rooted in a deep appreciation for the culture they are depicting. A beautiful example is the Shawnee legend The Ring in the Prairie. When studying the various folktales, it is the art perhaps more than anything else, that can bring alive the time and cultural differences. The different versions of the story, in contrast, can show us the universality of human nature as we are struck by the similarities of themes in their efforts to bring an understanding to their individual worlds and cultures.

Viewing this collection is both a privilege and a unique intellectual experience, for collections like this are not readily available and are only relatively recently being valued by the illustrators, the art establishment, and museums. Unfortunately, this new appreciation by the art world makes it harder to acquire and view originals. Children are a most appreciative audience and, just as with fine art, they can immerse themselves in the personal expression of the artist. No reproduction can capture the beauty, pleasure, and excitement of the original art. As Maurice Sendak says, if we can see illustration as illumination, we can see every shade and nuance as giving greater meaning. Thus, in the originals those shades and nuances are even more significant. Sendak uses the word “quicken,” suggesting a heartbeat, a musical beat, the beginning of a dance. So with this collection we must find creative ways to allow the broadest audience to view these illustrations, that can mirror and respect one individual’s background and culture while at the same time offer a new and exciting window on new worlds for others!

 

From the Catalog of the Beulah C. Campbell Collection of Original Illustrations for Children's Books, compiled by Celia Whitlock.