It’s hard for us to imagine the impact that illustrated books had a century ago, before movies and television commanded people’s imaginations. Back then a single new chromolithograph by NC Wyeth or Howard Pyle or Jessie Wilcox Smith was a rare pleasure, like seeing a shooting star or tasting a mango. A book with thirteen color plates was an extravagant feast. Today every time we open our mailbox there’s an avalanche of color pictures.
Like everyone else in my generation, I grew up with the TV blasting away in the background. The coffee table was three inches deep in color magazines. But somehow, by some strange magic, those illustrated classics spoke to me from their high shelf. “Take me down, savor me, I will take you to wonderful places,” they seemed to say. Each color plate sent a shiver down my spine.
Somehow I sensed the rarity and permanence of story illustrations, and I developed a hunger for them. Later, I found a paperback collection of Howard Pyle’s pictures. I bladed it and stuck the pictures all over the house. Those pictures were beacons for my imagination, a kind of steady refuge from the flickering world.
P.S. Sorry for the late post. We've been flying to the west coast today.