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UMass library exhibits how a picture book is made

“The Making of a Picture Book: The Marriage of Text and Art” at the Du Bois Library showcases the life of a picture book from its inception to its publication.

An open reception for the exhibit and a talk with Corinne Demas, the exhibit’s curator and an English professor from Mount Holyoke College, will be held on Oct. 4, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Memorial Hall.

Nestled in the center of the learning commons (the lower level of the library), “The Making of a Picture Book” focuses on four children’s books by local authors and illustrators. Demas is also one of the authors featured in this exhibit.

Demas’ story “The Littlest Matryoshka” and Kathryn Brown’s illustrations are dissected and seen in “The Making of a Picture Book.” Displayed in the exhibit is a letter, from the author to the illustrator, describing the tale as, “a very sweet story about the littlest of a group of Russian nesting dolls who gets separated from her sisters, has many adventures and finally is happily reunited with them in the home their new owner, a thoughtful little girl.”

Within the display, the actual dolls that served as an inspiration for this story stand in front of Demas’ letter to Brown. The dolls were all named for characters in Anton Chekov’s works, and they were bought by the author for her daughter Artemis – who is pictured in the exhibit playing with them. Also, the exhibit presents the original rough sketches of “The Littlest Matryoshka,” and onlookers are able to compare these with the final print as it is showcased next the original sketches.

The details of what the illustrator and author did and why they did it to alter the story are all shown in this exhibit. Explanations are given about the work, from the doll maker’s beard being added to the exact placement of the dolls. The active process through which the story develops and how the images correspond with the story is completely outlined within this exhibit.

Additionally featured is the story of “The Perfect Wizard: Hans Christian Andersen.” Written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Dennis Nolan, “The Perfect Wizard” is displayed with several pre-printing drafts.

The exhibit houses a “book dummy,” a black-and-white copy of the text of “The Perfect Wizard,” attached in the shape of a book, with Nolan’s sketches. It also shows a copy of the “F & Gs,” the “Folded and Gathered Sheets,” an unbound pre-production draft and a set of the book’s first color proofs. For this historical biography, Nolan explains that he “used a combination of watercolor washes to ‘antique’ the paper and colored pencils for the drawing.”

“Ten Times Better” is a counting book gone on African safari also found in the display. Award-winning printmaker, painter, sculptor and illustrator Leonard Baskin created a bright red background and a watercolor zebra to highlight the exactness of author Richard Michelson’s wording.

A spare painted zebra torso lays beside the book with the explanation that, “the stripes in the original illustration were the wrong number because there needed to be 99. An assistant painted a new zebra body to cover the original.” 

This book underlines how the text influenced the images, and vice versa, or how images can shape a story.

Next to the painting of a single, watercolor bee, Michelson has written, “Basking painted one bee. I made photocopies of the bee and laid them out in a pattern … They looked better swarming towards the text.”

The final picture book on display is a collaboration between mother-daughter writing duo, Patrician MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan-Charest, and painter Katy Schneider. “Once I Ate a Pie” is a book of dogs the authors and illustrator “know, or have known and loved.”

The illustrations for this story began as an oil painting of actual dogs. Schneider, who was able to “sneak in” two of her own dogs, writes that, “Researching took the longest. Once I have my source material, the actual painting is pretty quick.” A standalone cutout of an intrigued-looking pug overlooks the exhibit.

On a short study break, sophomore Sam DiNardo stops by to admire the picture books. Glancing over the myriad of colors and techniques, he said “I think the exhibit is really great. I really like seeing the artwork.”

Handwritten notes in the exhibit’s comment book seemingly take the same tone, ranging from “wonderfully informative” to “fascinating” and also “Inspiring! I want to go write my own picture book right now!”

“The Making of a Picture Book: The Marriage of Text and Art” can be viewed on the Lower Level of the Du Bois Library through Dec. 18, 2009.

Rachel Tumin can be reached at rtumin@student.umass.edu.

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