For the first time in its 120 year history the Worcester Art Museum just outside Boston is hosting an exhibition of a children’s book illustrator, and that illustrator is Michael’s dad, Ed Emberley. We went to see it in January with Ed and Barbara and some good friends.
Ed has written and/or illustrated more than a hundred books over his long career, working in various mediums and many styles, always experimenting and exploring. The exhibition in Worcester displays a wide variety of his art, rough sketches and finished pieces for some of his most iconic books, including Drummer Hoff (Caldecott Medal 1968), the best-selling and innovative Drawing Book series and many more.
The art for One Wide River to Cross (Caldecott Honor 1967) was created using woodcuts, some of which you can see pictured below:
Woodcuts are always carved in reverse so you can see the animals are marching in the opposite direction on the prints (below). This is final art marked up with instructions for the print run.
In the printed book there are colourful backgrounds, like so:
The art for The Story of Paul Bunyan (1963) was also created using woodcuts. Below is a print pulled from the ginormous woodblock Ed made as a promotion for the book – that’s the woodblock you can see to the left of the image. We all laughed when Rick stood in front of it, having unintentionally dressed the part!
Part of the joy of walking around the exhibition with Ed was being able to ask questions about the techniques he used. Here is a small selection of pieces from the exhibition – click on an image if you’d like to read how it was made. (You will need to roll down a bit below the image for the info, if you’re using a phone.)
We also heard some family memories. Barbara, Rebecca and Michael were often drafted in to help finish art and Barbara and Michael tried to recall who did what on which book. Most of Ed’s pre-computer book illustrations were created using the “pre-separation” process – a technique which involved using Ed’s original black line art combined with three additional paper overlays indicating colour placement. Michael explained that for a book like the ABC, he might have created the overlays on say, an alligator, Rebecca a bear, Barbara a cat. Meaning, with a felt-tip pen, Michael would have marked the areas which Ed intended for the alligator as yellow, red and blue, literally ‘colouring them in’ (on overlays) like a highly detailed coloring book. Yes, it’s confusing if you’ve never seen it done! Ed’s studio is in the family home, Barbara worked on many of the books and in more recent years Rebecca and Ed have created books together, so all the books are deeply woven into everyone’s memories.
It was really interesting to see Ed’s work explored in this way. He has created so many great books that it can be overwhelming, but the exhibition doesn’t try to show it all. Curator Caleb Neelon and Worcester Museum director Adam Rozen chose some favourites from across Ed’s work and the result is terrific.
And it was great fun going to see it with friends – Tom and Rick, Anne, Sika and Susannah. We made a party of it! The show runs at Worcester Art Museum (MA) till April 9th.