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Dancing by the Light of the Moon: The Art of Fred Marcellino


Dancing by the Light of the Moon: The Art of Fred Marcellino, an exhibition celebrating the alluring art of acclaimed illustrator and designer Fred Marcellino (1939­2001), will be on view through January 26, 2003 at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Marcellino is noted for changing the look of book covers for contemporary fiction before embarking upon a second career as an award-winning author and illustrator of popular children's books.

Many of Marcellino's most memorable book cover designs are included in the exhibition, such as those for Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities and Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The exhibition features Marcellino's rich illustrations and designs for children's books, including Puss in Boots, a winner of the Caldecott Honor, the critically acclaimed The Steadfast Tin Soldier, and I, Crocodile, a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book. Support for this exhibition has been provided by The Studley Press with additional support from Harper Collins Children's Books and from Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. (left: Cover illustration for Puss in Boots, ©1990 by Fred Marcellino)

"Fred Marcellino will best be remembered as the one who cornered the market on mood and atmosphere with his covers and jackets, produced from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s," writes Steven Heller, art director for The New York Times Book Review, in an essay from the exhibition's catalogue. "His surreal landscapes, exotic backdrops, impressionist palette, and precisionist typography defined a particular kind of literary genre," Heller adds.

Brooklyn-born Marcellino studied painting at New York City's Cooper Union, where he also discovered an affinity for hand lettering and calligraphy. Upon his graduation from the Yale University School of Art in 1962, he continued to experiment with abstract-expressionist concepts and painting techniques. In 1964, following a year of study in Venice on a Fulbright Fellowship, Marcellino returned to New York, where he supported his intensive studio work with odd jobs. By the end of the decade, he had shifted directions, and, with a newly organized portfolio in hand, began a career designing the covers of pop and rock record covers for music companies Capitol, Decca, and Polygram.

Marcellino once said, "I'm involved in fast communication, in saying complicated things in direct ways. Sometimes you have to deal in clichés. Fine artists reject clichés. I embrace them-they're a starting point." By 1975, the prolific Marcellino was working in the publishing field. He was soon regarded as the preeminent designer and illustrator of sleek, eye-catching book jackets. His subtly painted images created an eloquent and captivating graphic identity for works by many popular authors, including Margaret Atwood and Anne Tyler. Throughout his 15 years as a book jacket designer, Marcellino often produced more than 40 covers each year.

At the height of his success in this field, Marcellino abruptly ended his book-jacket career, turning his attention to the illustration of children's books. At first, he reinterpreted the classics; later, he authored and illustrated original tales. His first full-color picture book, Puss in Boots, was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Honor in 1991 and was followed by other award-winning works, including The Steadfast Tin Soldier (1992), a New York Times Best Picture Book of the Year, and The Wainscott Weasel (1993), The Story of Little Babaji (1996) and Ouch! (1998) ­ all American Library Association Notable Books. I, Crocodile, Marcellino's first original tale, was a critical and popular success. Hoping to complete Arrivederci, Crocodile as a sequel to the book, he continued to work while battling colon cancer. Fred Marcellino died on July 12, 2001, at the age of 61. (left: Illustration for I, Crocodile, ©1999 by Fred Marcellino)

"Fred Marcellino represents the epitome of craft and fastidious process," notes illustrator Wendell Minor, a close friend of the late illustrator. "He brought a sense of intelligence to illustration and, with his elegant and simple designs, he single-handedly created a unique look to book jackets." Minor, whose own cover illustrations have graced more than 2,000 works, is co-curator of the exhibition with Stephanie Plunkett, associate director for programs and exhibitions at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

The exhibition includes Marcellino's original art for 10 record album covers for such artists as Loretta Lynn, Manhattan Transfer and Fleetwood Mac; 22 book covers including jacket designs for Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Judith Rossner's August; and Puss in Boots and Hans Christian Andersen's The Steadfast Tin Soldier among many others. A range of studies and a collection of objects from the artist's intimate weekend studio in Greenville, New York, includes a curio cabinet and an assemblage of his unique, personal collectibles.


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