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.
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.