March 22nd – Randolph Caldecott

“Art is long, life isn’t.”

Randolph Caldecott

Randolph Caldecott, the father of the picture book, was born on March 22nd, 1846, in Chester, England. An artist from a very young age, Caldecott’s first published drawing was a sketch of a local hotel fire, which was printed in the London Illustrated News when he was just 15. By his mid-twenties, he moved to London to pursue a career illustrating for magazines. 

In 1878 Caldecott was asked to illustrate two children’s books, Christmas stories that sold for a shilling each – The House That Jack Built and The Diverting History of John Gilpin. They were an immediate success, and Caldecott soon became famous worldwide for his illustrations. His career was cut short when he died just shy of his fortieth birthday in 1886. He had suffered from ill-health most of his life, and after contracting a cold, he died on a trip in St. Augustine, Florida, on February 12th, 1886. He is buried there but also has memorials in London and Chester. 

 In his book Caldecott & Co: Notes on Books & Pictures (1988), Maurice Sendak states: “Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counter point that never happened before. Words are left out — but the picture says it. Pictures are left out — but the words say it. In short, it is the invention of the picture book.”

Today Caldecott is known mainly by the Caldecott Award, created in the 1930s and named in Randolph’s honor to honor the creators of children’s picture books. The Award is given yearly “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Lesson from Caldecott:

Caldecott kind of fell into illustrating children’s books. So much so – that they weren’t even a genre before he started doing it. By stepping bravely into an opportunity he grew an art form that has inspired not only fellow artists who have followed his lead, but generations of children, readers, and authors who have picked up the books the world now has because of him.

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