February 14, 2009

The Fairy Tale Art of Jessie Wilcox Smith by Guest Writer Chrissa Sandlin

The fairy tale art of Jessie Wilcox Smith


Water swathes them like sheer linen, drawn over skin and scales like a curtain that could be drawn back, letting us down into their fantastic world. Jessie Wilcox Smith in her many fairy tale illustrations layers colors like fine veils woven of sunlight and sea air, illustrating both classics such as Water Babies, and scenes that drift from her imagination.

As a child, I devoured everything relating to swimming and the water—my favorite place was laying in the inflatable pool, head canted to the sky—and Ms. Smith’s illustrations carry everything of that contemplative mood. She herself built a home and studio with gardens in which she could bring her young models to play and explore, drawing her art directly from the experiential world of childhood.

She came to professional illustration later in life and at a time in which a woman who chose a profession most likely did so over marriage and motherhood, studying for and becoming a kindergarten teacher before taking up drawing and shifting into professional illustration. A contemporary of Mary Cassatt and Maxfield Parish, Ms. Smith is considered to have been influenced by Japanese prints and Art Noveau, softening her style away from firm charcoal lines as she developed her own style.

Born in 1863, Ms. Smith had already become a kindergarten teacher before a cousin encouraged her to pursue an art education. By 1894, she was taking classes from Howard Pyle at the Drexel institute and receiving commissions for book illustration. While at Drexel, Ms. Smith met Violet Oakley and Elizabeth Shippen Green and the three became friends, joining together to work in a shared studio called Red Rose Cottage. This period of their lives is captured in the book The Red Rose Girls by Alice A. Carter. Ms. Smith eventually purchased a home and studio of her own and her popularity continued to grow.

Her illustrations earned her a nationwide reach, particularly in the Good Housekeeping covers from late 1917 through early 1933 and she continued to paint until she passed away in 1935. These and other illustrations show her gift of portraying children in their many moods and in their fragility and evanescence, all of which are also keys to the fairy kingdom. Laughter rings from the water’s edge, toes splash, and we creep to the hem of wonder, floating on the wondrous curls of Ms. Smith’s brush.

Visit Chrissa Sandlin's blog - The Pollen and The Sting.

Jesse Wilcox Smith Links:

Buy prints at ART.com


Lady Euphoria Deathwatch said...

Hi Dorlana,

Thank you. It was just what I needed on a gray day like today.

Hugs, Euphoria

Dorlana said...

You're welcome, Lady Euphoria. I know what you mean. Chrissa has such a poetic way with words; it's like sunshine. And Jessie Wilcox Smith art makes me smile. Thanks for stopping by!