2005-02-11 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

Rockaway Artists Alliance Photography As Children

Rockaway Artists Alliance
Photography As Children’s Book Illustration

Gallery highlights: Black and Light on Silver, a black and white photography exhibition is on view February 12 through April 3 at sTudio 6 Gallery, Fort Tilden, Rockaway Center for the Arts.

Opening reception is Sunday, February 13 from 1 to 3 PM and will feature live entertainment and refreshments. Admission is free.

Gallery hours: Saturdays 12-4 PM; Sundays 1-4 PM. Schedule of exhibition special events to be published.

When most of us think of the mediums used for children’s book illustration, we probably think of watercolor, acrylic, markers or even oil paint.

But how many of us would consider setting up compositions using toys and miniatures and photographing them as the images in a children’s book?

This column explores the work of two artists, separated by approximately forty years, who have done just that.

Dare Wright was the author/photographer of nineteen books in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, that included “The Lonely Doll” series.

They delighted not only the children of that era, but continue to do so today. Sloane Tanen is a painter and author who, in collaboration with photographer Stefan Hagen has created “Where Is Coco Going?,” a wildly imaginative book for a new generation of children.

Wright’s photographs are in black and white. The photographs of “Where Is Coco Going?” are in color.

Dare Wright, who lived from 1914 through 2001, had a personal life that was as intriguing as her books and is reflected in those books.

Though an intelligent and witty adult, in many ways she remained a child all her life.

Her connection as an adult to the emotions and fantasies of childhood and her ability to express them in her books are responsible for the devotion of her readers.

Some of you reading this column may be among them. Indeed, many of her original fans have handed these charming, sensitive books down to their children and grandchildren.

Wright’s parents divorced when she was only a few years old. She remained with her overbearing artist mother, while her brother went to live with their father.

According to biographer Jean Nathan, this traumatic double separation colored Wright’s stories, in which she expressed and worked through the fears and loneliness that children often feel.

Trained as an artist by her mother, Wright found her medium in photography. Her first book, published in 1957, was “The Lonely Doll.” Its text was simple and its black and white images were haunting.

The book’s main character was Edith. As illustrations, Wright made still photographs of Edith, the 21-inch Italian-made Lenci doll her mother had bought her as a child in Halle’s Department Store in Cleveland (Wright named the doll after her mother).

Eighteen books followed, most starring Edith and all using still photography as illustration. One devoted fan has called the backgrounds “sumptuous.”

Other characters included Edith’s friend “Little Bear,” a 10-inch Steiff “Jackie” Bear and “Mr. Bear,” a SchuccoYes/No bear both found in FAO Schwarz..

To a child, the characters are very much alive in these beautiful, rich images.

Three of the books are back in print, published by Houghton Mifflin, including “The Lonely Doll.”

Others may be found on eBay or from publishers that include Loganberry Books.

Google Dare Wright to find out more about her life and books and to see the artistry of her photographs.

“Where Is Coco Going?” is the hip, original, humorous and imaginatively-rendered story of the journey of Coco the chick, and her constant horsey companion, to…well, we don’t find out till the final page.

This was the second collaboration of author Sloane Tanen and photographer Stefan Hagen. The first was for adults — “Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same,” in which little yellow chickens are caught in the neuroses and frustrations of the modern world.

Tanen created the clever dioramas and wrote the subtly hysterical, edgy captions to these vignettes.

Sloane, a painter, called in Hagen, a neighbor in their Long Island City cooperative artists’ space, to photograph the dioramas.

Hagen removed the vignettes from their boxes, making it possible to create elaborate set-ups, taking three or four hours to shoot.

Tanen combs dollhouse stores for the miniatures she once built herself. She states in an interview that she uses these toy chicks because their faces are blank and you can project any emotion on them and they take it.

Tanen considers “Where Is Coco Going?” to be simple, basically a picture book. But it is no less inventive, colorful or charming – to be enjoyed by children and adults.

The sets are beautifully realized and photographed. Matthew Lenning designed the book, artist Trudell created the scary forest set and Gary Oshust is credited with model-making.

Tanen and Hagen are planning a second children’s book and a sequel to “Bitter with Baggage.”

The books are published by Bloomsbury. I can’t wait.

Heads up! Celeste Ray and her Celtic ensemble are performing a St. Patrick’s Day concert at St Francis de Sales Church, 129-16 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, at 2 PM on Saturday, February 26.

Don’t miss it. More next week.

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