By Jennifer Thorpe
“Ink & Imagination” opened quietly last week. In a season packed with social events, this lovely new exhibit offers everyone the opportunity to step back from the busy demands of the holidays and take a moment to reconnect with the magical world of children’s illustration.
On display at the Station Gallery, the St. Marys Museum, and the St. Marys Public Library is a wondrous collection of colour prints and books from the Golden Age of Illustration, a fascinating period that benefited from advances in colour printing and the raising of the middle class during the Industrial Revolution. The artwork produced by legendary illustrators in a relatively short span of time, pre-1880s to the 1930s, had a tremendous impact on the graphic design world that followed as well as worldwide literacy. “Ink & Imagination” offers viewers the chance to enjoy these original coloured plates in pristine condition, from some of the greatest illustrators of the period.
Many of the featured prints will be surprisingly familiar to modern readers and film-goers alike. Visitors to the Station Gallery will enjoy Ernest Shepard’s classic work from ‘Winnie The Pooh’ and ‘The Wind In The Willows,’ as well as gems from Swedish illustrator John Bauer, the brilliant English illustrator Charles Keeping and French illustrator Edmund Dulac.
Visitors to the Museum will find a copy of Howard Pyle’s, ‘Book Of Pirates,’ published in 1908. Pyle was one of the most famous illustrators at the end of the 19th century, widely respected for historical accuracy and vivid imagination. Almost a hundred years after it was first published, his portrait of Captain Kidd was the creative inspiration for Johnny Depp’s famous Disney character Captain Jack Sparrow.
Works from great illustrators like Maxfield Parrish and Arthur Rackham are on display, as are informative tributes outlining the importance of the works of Beatrix Potter, Jessie Wilcox Smith and Kate Greenaway. More modern prints like Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ and Scott McKowen’s ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ will be instantly recognizable for many people.
An interesting collection of classics like ‘The Hockey Sweater,’ ‘M Is For Moose – A Charles Pachter Alphabet,’ Dennis Lee’s ‘Alligator Pie,’ and William Kurelek’s inspired illustration of ‘Who Has Seen The Wind’ all provide an important perspective on the growth and artistry in Canadian children’s literature. And, creating a direct link to the importance of illustration in modern times, Canadian illustrator Jeff Lemire’s important collaboration with Gord Downey on, ‘The Secret Path’ is also featured.
Book lovers of all ages will enjoy the company of a good book in the Museum’s cozy reading nook. And readers are also encouraged to participate in the Christmas Is Golden book draw by entering their names to win a brand-new copy of a favourite children’s classic. Golden Christmas Crackers are available at the Station Gallery, the Museum and the Public Library; draws will be done in January following the closing of the exhibit on December 21st.
An exhibit of this size and scope requires a great deal of collaboration. Hosted by the town of St. Marys, the exhibit was organized by the Friends of the St. Marys Museum and made possible by a grant from the Stratford Perth Community Foundation, including a significant contribution from the Annie and Isabelle Chesterfield Fund. Downtown St. Marys has also lent their support, displaying prints from the exhibit in no fewer than forty storefront windows. Many works have been privately loaned for the exhibit, but it was Reed Needles’ lifelong love of illustration that inspired the many contributors, planners and organizers who have presented such a terrific show. Congratulations to all and thank you for giving such a wonderful gift to the community this season.