Articles, Blog

The Wonderful World of the Ladybird Book Artists

I was lucky to catch this exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, before it closed.  It’s hard to believe that this fantastic display, which fitted the gallery space so well, is a mobile exhibition. To be boxed up and moved to another venue.
The most striking thing as you entered, was one wall completely covered in panels displaying every Ladybird front cover from 1914 to 1975. Visitors were lining up to see them close up, pushing to get a close look at them. They were mesmerised, scanning the rows for favourite books, scrutinising the details close up, explaining the books to the youngsters with them – ones they remembered reading as a child.  A lot of selfies  were taken in front of the wallpaper of artwork. It’s not enough to look and store the experience in your mind – we  need to make sure we have something on our phone to look back on or share with other aficionados. To relive it, I suppose.
Each individual artist was represented on the other walls:  a short bio, examples of their sketches and draft work, and  the final watercolour pictures ready to be scaled down to fit the pages and text.  Beautiful paintings, exquisite work. The urge to slip a favourite one under your coat or in your shopping bag is strong. I would have chosen Harry Wingfield’s illustration of ‘At the Bakery’ from his ‘Learning with Mother’ series, and Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe’s ‘Cows and Kale’ one of his farm scenes.
In the centre of the gallery were small tents with seats and a table piled with Ladybird books – for you to read to your accompanying child, or for an adult to enjoy a nostalgic readathon of past delights. We were all brought up on illustrated books, lovely pictures which enhanced the words creating the story that you hoped would never end. Illustrators now, thank goodness, received the accolades they deserve. Reading stories – or being read to,  introduced us to a wide variety of characters and took us to real and imaginary places, leaving  imprints on our minds forever.
It was wonderful to see illustrators being celebrated – and how important their role was, and still is, in entertaining, educating and expanding the horizons of children.
 As Alice in Wonderland said:
‘What is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?’
Catch it if you can: St Albans Museum, May -September 2024; Peterborough Museum, Spring 2025. dtbc
If not, enjoy images of the vintage artwork: Ladybird fly away home