Monday, April 10, 2006

Dorothy Lathrop

If you are interested in illustrations and prints, and are within travelling distance of Chadds Ford, PA, I urge you make a trip to the Brandywine River Museum to see "Flora, Fauna, and Fantasy: The Art of Dorothy Lathrop." (For those of you in the Albany, NY region, the exhibit will travel to the Albany Institute of History and Art, where it'll be from September 16 through the end of the year.)

There's been a lot of necessary (though soul-killing) paper-pushing going on under the glare of the flourescent lights here at Mortlake recently, so when friends offered an opportunity to leave the study and travel to the museum on a sunny Sunday morning, the offer was readily accepted.

Though the Brandywine River Museum is known for it's Wyeth collections, I was pleased beyond words to discover the collection of Dorothy Lathrop's prints, drawings, and illustrations.

Lathrop (1891-1980) was primarily a children's book illustrator; she won the first Caldecott award, and was also a winner of the Newberry Medal during her long and productive career. She was trained at Teacher's College in New York, at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, and the Arts League in NYC. As the illustration Ruin shows, she was a thorough-going modernist who was deeply influenced by Japanese print design.

Her first commission was to provide the illustrations for Walter de la Mare's The Three Mulla-Mulgars (1919), the story of three monkeys on a quest to find their royal uncle.

Lathrop's work on that book brought her wide attention and additional commissions; after 1931 she primarily illustrated her own stories.

While neither my sister nor I were raised on faerie stories, a particular variant of the genre was indeed prevalent during the historical period that I work on. Consequently, I've come to share a fascination for the genre's attention to themes of masking, impersonation, and hidden worlds with some of the figures whose lives I research.

Here's one of my favorite images from the show:

The exhibition catalogue provides a quote of Lathrap describing her methodology of passionate attention:
A person who does not love what he is drawing, whatever it may be, children or animals, or anything else, will not draw them convincingly, and that, simply because he will not bother to look at them long enough to really see them. What we love, we gloat over and feast our eyes upon. And when we look again and again at any living creature, we cannot help but perceive its subtlety of line, its exquisite patterning and all its intricacy and beauty. ... [O]ne who loves what he draws is very humbly trying to translate into alien medium life itself, and it is his joy and his pain that he knows that life to be matchless. (p. 7)

excellent, excellent work.
Agreed. As an optimist, I'm hoping that DL's early work might become available in print again sometime soon.
It's heartbreaking to know that the Lathrop (Dorothy [d.1980]) and Gertrude [d.1986)]), sisters' original works that remained in their NW CT home when Gertrude died wound up mostly at the Falls Village town dump! The sisters never married, and evidently no remaining relatives took the time to preserve their efforts. In as much as this happened in 1986, not 1886, it's just criminal. Illustrators had already gained their deserved respect, thanks in many ways to NC Wyeth and N Rockwell, et al; to realise that the individuals who carried such work to the 'circular file' could be so ignorant bodes ill for American culture, IMHO.

While I cannot find any available prints of Lathrop's work (not even the BRM did a poster, for their exhibition ... sigh), books are still available via and other on-line sources. I'm considering ordering some of the lowest priced 'exlib' books, and framing the works within, for lack of a better source. (In fact, it was while checking Google for possible available Lathrop prints that I found this MortLake blog! LOL!)
Yeah, I was bummed by the BRM's lack of a poster, too.

On the plus side, their exhibition catalogue is nicely illustrated, and contains several thoughtful essays.
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