Illustration - Spring 2014 - Issue 39

Everybody loves a mystery, but it’s always a surprise when you come across books that are relatively well-known, only to find that the life, character and other work of the artist is almost entirely forgotten. This issue we learn about the hunt by the publishing team at the V&A to uncover more information about Jack Townend, illustrator of stunning 1940s lithographic picture books including A Story About Ducks and The Railway ABC. 
Unsung heroes also feature in the story of the illustrators of the public information posters that successive governments have used to try to shape the way the British work and live. Whether they are telling you when to take your holidays, not to drink and drive, how to clean your teeth or to stop dropping litter, these posters form a powerful historical archive of society’s concerns. While some of the artists are well-known for other work – such as Lewitt and Him and Abram Games – some were employed almost entirely by government departments, while others are still known only by their signatures. All, however, are collected and held by the National Archives, which forms an invaluable resource for art historians.
Eric Ravilious, meanwhile, cannot be described as neglected. His hugely popular work continues to attract devotees and books are constantly highlighting and evaluating aspects of his art. But his wood-engravings, which were used largely in his many illustrations for books and advertisements, are more rarely considered together as a group. This is a shame, since some of the books are now scarce and expensive, while the images are often small decorations that deserve more attention. Today’s illustrators have more ways to reach an audience – wildlife artist Richard Bell, for example, publishes sketches on his Yorkshire blog – however, ensuring a lasting legacy continues to be a challenge. That’s why we need collectors and enthusiasts to keep the flames alive.

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