A few months ago we were going through our very ancient art archives that date back to the old days when the company fully owned all the illustrations. The archives have been a treasure trove: among other things, we unearthed the complete artwork for a long out-of-print Flicka, Ricka, Dicka book, which we’re reissuing this spring.
And then one day, I was talking with Laura, our archive manager, who was just unwrapping a stack of illustrations that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. They were pen-and-ink on paper, with tissue paper on top showing where color overlays would be printed. We didn’t know the book, but something about the style looked familiar. Something about that girl in the bonnet…
“Oh my goodness!” I said. “It’s Helen Moore Sewell! She did the original art for the Little House books!” (Which were published by Harper in New York, but if you know me at all, I have something of an interest in those books.)
The artwork we were looking at was for a title called Peter and Gretchen of Old Nuremberg by Viola M. Jones, which we published in 1935.
Little House on the Prairie was also first published in 1935. You can see here that she used a similar style with the color overlays.
It’s really something to see this original art up close, and to see Sewell’s technique. The art on the right is the tissue paper showing the overlays. It must have been photographed and made into color plates.
And the cross-hatching is exquisite!
Helen Sewell’s illustrations in the Little House series were replaced by the now-iconic Garth Williams artwork when the series was reissued in 1953. I love the Williams stuff, of course, but there’s something so engaging about Sewell’s art, too. It’s a different kind of “classic” style, and getting to see it up close and in person gave me a new appreciation of her work.