For many grown-ups, Indiana schoolteacher Zerna Sharp’s wholesome world of Dick, Jane, Spot and the rest was a comforting hallmark of childhood reading. And for a new generation of parents who didn’t grow up with the books, it’s the fun, retro vibe of the illustrations that makes them perfectly hip wall decor.
Children’s book art, especially vintage examples, can be a relatively inexpensive way to add a special touch to a room.
Denise Myers of Tagnwag.com collected a number of early primers — including many “Dick and Jane” books — and wanted to give them an even longer life. She sells matted 8-by-10-inch pages, read to frame, in $28 sets of four, or singly for about $10.
“I thought it would be a wonderful way to save the nostalgic quality they have,” she said.
There’s something about the illustrations in childhood books that strikes a chord: When the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences in Peoria, Ill., hung 50 of Eleanor Campbell’s original illustrations from the “Dick and Jane” series, curators were unprepared for what happened next.
“‘Dick and Jane’ had such an emotional impact on our visitors that we had it up longer than any other temporary exhibit ever,” museum spokeswoman Kathleen Woith recalls. “What was supposed to be a three-month run turned into 17 months. While museums always try to appeal to the heart and soul, it’s not very often that we find visitors with tears streaming down their faces.”
For those interested in early children’s book art, look for reproductions of work by Kate Greenaway, John Tenniel (of “Alice in Wonderland” fame), Maude Humphrey (“Mother Goose”), Randolph Caldecott (Christmas books), Bessie Pease Gutmann, and N.C. Wyeth, who was Andrew’s father and illustrated the Robert Louis Stevenson classics.
Try eBay for vintage pieces, or for inexpensive reproductions in poster form, Art.com has a large selection, including Babar books, Tintin, King Arthur and “The 1940 Boys’ Book of Heroes.” Prices run between $10 and $50, and the site will custom frame them if desired.
Ernest Shepard’s illustrations for A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” books make delightful additions to a child’s room. A 1926 first edition sells for around $2,500 at rare bookstores. But for free, you can download images on Keith Mander’s Web site, Just-Pooh.com, and frame them yourself.
“While most of us wouldn’t admit it, we envy simple characters living carefree lives shared with some close friends,” Mander said.
Several of Dr. Seuss’ well-known characters, including Horton and the Cat in the Hat, are available framed at PBKids.com through a partnership between the retailer and the Seuss Foundation.
Fans of hungry caterpillars, meanwhile, should visit Picturebookart.org for signed Eric Carle lithographs ($100-$500), as well as signed Tony DiTerlizzi (“Spiderwick Chronicles”) digital prints ($375).
Large format books work well as art. Frame the covers or favorite pages from picture books, and even old coffee table books, that feature wonderful photography, or a child’s favorite animal.
Search for used or remaindered books at your favorite bookseller, and spray mount the pictures on card stock, or fit them in a ready-made mat, then frame. If you come upon a beautiful first edition, however, consider placing it in a Plexiglas display box (crafts stores stock them), then hang or place on a decorative shelf.
A first bedroom — indeed any room — dressed in book art and filled with literature is a happy place.
www.picturebookart.org – At Eric Carle’s picture-book art museum in Amherst, Mass., exhibits include the works of Tomie de Paiola, Virginia Lee Burton, Leo Lionni and, of course, Carle. There are several galleries, a cafe, library, gift shop and craft space with free art supplies. (413) 658-1100; 125 West Bay Rd., Amherst, Mass.
www.tagnwag.com – “Dick and Jane” vintage matted book pages, as well as other early primers from the 1930s and later. $28 for sets of 4; others available separately.
www.just-pooh.com – downloadable Ernest Shepard “Winnie-the-Pooh” illustrations, plus history, stories, coloring pages, song clips, games.
www.potterybarnkids.com – Dr. Seuss character prints ready to frame, $89 each.
www.michaels.com – display frames and boxes; card stock; mats.