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Flora, Fauna, and Fantasy: The Art of Dorothy Lathrop

March 25 - May 21, 2006


(above: Dorothy Lathrop (1891-?), Hitty Floating in Water, 1929, ink on illustration board 11 5/8 x 9 3/8 inches. Illustration for Rachel Field, Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929. Collection of New England Gallery, Inc.)


For over 40 years, Dorothy Lathrop expressed her love of fantasy and nature in pen and ink, watercolor, and lithographic pencil. Her illustrations, created mainly for children, demonstrate sophisticated design and unique craftsmanship that influenced other important illustrators of her generation. (right: Dorothy Lathrop (1891-?), Stars, 1930, ink on illustration board, approx 13 x 10 inches. Illustration for Sarah Teasdale, Stars Tonight, New York: Macmillan Company, 1930. Private collection)

Forgotten for over four decades, Lathrop is rediscovered as an important American illustrator in a new exhibition organized by the Brandywine River Museum. Flora, Fauna, and Fantasy: The Art of Dorothy Lathrop, which opens March 25 and continues through May 21, 2006 includes over 120 original works, most of which have never been exhibited before.

Dorothy Lathrop was born in Albany, New York in 1891. Her mother, Ida Pulis Lathrop, was a noted painter who encouraged Dorothy's devotion to art and to the natural world. At Columbia University, Lathrop studied under Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) and with illustrators Henry McCarter at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and F. Luis Mora at the Art Students League in New York.

Lathrop's first illustrated children's book was The Three Mulla-Mulgars by celebrated English writer, Walter de la Mare. De la Mare's poetic language and sensitive treatment of characters meshed well with Lathrop's compassion for animals. Following this work, Lathrop received a deluge of commissions in the 1920s and 1930s, including two George MacDonald classics, The Light Princess (1926) and The Princess and Curdie (1927). MacDonald's tales were special favorites from Lathrop's childhood, and in 1925, she persuaded Macmillan Company to publish the books in succession.

Among the most enduring and best-known of her illustrations are those for Rachel Field's Hitty, Her First Hundred Years (1929). Together Field and Lathrop purchased an antique doll, and devised Hitty's adventures in the hands of various owners. The book won the Newbery Medal and became an instant classic. It is still in print today.        

Lathrop's The Fairy Circus, a book she authored and illustrated in 1931, features fairies who join woodland creatures in acrobatic performances. The Fairy Circus was named a Newbery Honor Book.

In the late 1920s, Lathrop taught herself the craft of wood engraving. She found engraving a relaxing diversion from illustration deadlines. Dedicated to her new "hobby," Lathrop made prize-winning prints and helped organize The Print Club of Albany.  

 In 1935, changes in commercial printing prompted Lathrop to switch from pen and ink to lithographic pencil as a primary medium. In addition, she began to shift her focus from imaginary worlds to animal subjects. Who Goes There? (1935), Lathrop's first book reproducing drawings in lithographic pencil on illustration board, depicts interactions of various animals in their habitats. In 1938, Lathrop earned the first Caldecott Medal for her images in Animals from the Bible (1937).

Lathrop and her sister Gertrude, a sculptor, cared for a menagerie of domestic and wild creatures in their home and studio, both for companionship and as models for their art. For the remainder of her career, Lathrop wrote many books based on these and other animals. (right: Dorothy Lathrop (1891-1983), Goldfish, 1944, engraving, woodcut in ink on Japanese paper, 9 3/4 x 10 3/4 inches. Albany Institute of History & Art. Gift of the Albany Print Club)

Lathrop's drawings in this exhibition are fresh, dynamic, enchanting and sophisticated. Her images are classic and appeal to people of all ages.

Flora, Fauna, and Fantasy: The Art of Dorothy Lathrop, will be accompanied by an illustrated publication including three essays about Lathrop's life, art, and career. The exhibition will travel to the Albany Institute of History & Art in September 2006.

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