Remembering Erik Blegvad

Today’s New York Times obituary of children’s book artist Erik Blegvad evoked memories of the days when there were as many illustrators in town as admen (and, today, hedge fund guys).

The “prolific children’s book artist renowned for illustrations whose fine-grained propriety could barely conceal the deep subversive wit at their core” died last month in London. He was 90.

Erik Blegvad

Erik Blegvad

In the 1950s and early ’60s, Blegvad lived in Westport. He illustrated some of his more than 100 picture books here, including Mary Norton’s famous “Bed-Knob and Broomstick.”

The Times notes: “Mr. Blegvad was also noted for illustrating texts by his (Danish) countrymen, including Hans Christian Andersen and the writer and illustrator N. M. Bodecker, a friend since their art-school days in Copenhagen.”

Bodecker was also a longtime Westporter.

The Times added:

His illustrations for Mr. Bodecker’s posthumous picture book text, “Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear!” (1998), about a harried farm wife who in the course of a single day must “pick the apples,/dill the pickles,” and “chop down the trees for wooden nickels” and do a spate of other essential chores, elicited delighted praise from critics.

The book’s nearly wordless final panel, in which the beleaguered Mary turns the tables on her layabout husband, leaves little doubt as to the anarchic sweep of Mr. Blegvad’s imagination.

A final anecdote in the obituary shows the freewheeling spirit that enlivened Westport’s arts scene at the time.

At midcentury, supplying an illustration to Esquire, he drew, as requested, a naval scene. He also drew, far in the background, a ship with tiny semaphore flags spelling out an unprintable two-word phrase.

At least one reader was schooled in semaphore, and that spelled the end of Mr. Blegvad’s work for Esquire.

Erik Blegvad illustrated the cover of this 1957 classic.

Erik Blegvad illustrated the cover of this 1957 classic.

10 responses to “Remembering Erik Blegvad

  1. who knew? reading hurry hurry mary dear tonight!

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    Amy Unikewicz amy@jellyfever.com http://www.jellyfever.com 203-856-5885

  2. Carl Volckmann

    The Times writer must not have been in the navy–“semaphore flags” are hand-held, and the position of the signalman’s two arms denotes each letter. He should have said “signal flags”, which are hoisted to the ship’s mast’s yardarm.

  3. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Children’s book illustrators are very special, indeed. I had no idea that Erik Blegvad had lived in Westport, but I do know that Maurice Sendak lived in Ridgefield. Both towns conducive to such important, timeless work.

  4. I had no idea that he was the father of Peter – did he grow up here?

  5. Peter spent his elementary school years. Erik grew up in Denmark. Full details in the Times obituary (link is in the story above).

  6. I meant Peter – hey, now that is someone for Westport to claim as one of our own – he’s terrific.

  7. Erik Blegvad was the illustrator for several of Felice Holman (Valen)’s books – “Elizabeth and the Marsh Mystery” shows the area around the Mill Pond – Felice, Herbert Valen, and daughter Nanine Valen lived at 158 Hillspoint nearby

  8. Erik and Lenore Blegvad were good friends of my parents in their Westport years, and I remember them well, especially Erik”s spectacular mustachio. If my young girl’s memory serves me, Lenore passed away from cancer during that time. I treasure a book I have which Eric illustrated: the Pepperidge Farm Cookbook…