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October 31, 2003 - Image 71

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-10-31

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Lobel remembers setting to work,
using watercolors to copy the blue- and
white-striped upholstery and the delicate
carving of the chair's wooden frame.
When her teacher's praise broke into her
concentration, Lobel realized she had
nearly forgotten where she was.
Being designated class artist "softened
the stigma of [her] clumsiness in gym
and sports," she writes. Art classes fol-
lowed, as did numerous trips to muse-
ums and galleries. "When I looked at
the paintings," she writes, "I was not
content to remain an admirer. I became
the hungry wanderer and intruder into
the outlines of lace on a wrist, into eyes
and noses and hairs. ... I was a conspir-
ator and a thief. I was an artist."
Reflecting on that first experience,
Lobel says her teacher's response was a
great surprise. "I thought, 'Well, maybe
this is what I can do.' I always joke
about the fact that I've worked on pic-
ture books and been paid for work that
is `shmeared' pictures. Every time I go
in with a finished product, I feel as if
I'm going to my teacher and I hope I'm
going to get an A.'"
Anyone familiar with her work
knows that Lobel does more than just

"shmear.
Shmearers don't win the Caldecott,
the industry's Oscar for picture-book
illustrators, as Lobel did in 1982. The
aforementioned memoir, No Pretty
Pictures, garnered nine awards, among
them the Sidney Taylor Award Honor
Book and the American Library
Association's Best Book Award for
Young Adults.
Lobel's family immigrated to America
when she was 16. Soon after, the future
author/illustrator received a scholarship
to attend the prestigious Pratt Institute.
It was there that she met, and later
married, fellow artist Arnold Lobel. In
time they collaborated not only on rais-
ing a family but in their work as well.
Their first such endeavor, How the
Rooster Saved the Day, reveals the influ-
ence theater and opera have had upon
Anita Lobel. She literally staged the
characters' action, framing them on
each page within the fanciful confines
of theater curtains. The titular robber
and rooster, pigs, cats and dogs appear
as if on a puppet stage.
Lobel recalls that her husband was
quite taken aback at her intricate render-
ings. "What are you doing to my story?"
she recalls him asking. But Lobel's
approach is rooted in her perception of
the link between text and art.
"I have learned from theater and
from opera the way the word is extend-
ed by the visualization of it," she com-
ments. "I have a horror of just decorat-

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"Pure perfection."

—Kate Lawson, Detroit News

The telling of each folktale in 'My
Grandmother's Stories" is launched
through conversations between the young
narrator and her beloved grandmother.

ing. I like to focus
on the words. To
really say [via illus-
tration] what the
words are saying.
That's the measure of
a really good book."
Lobel admits that
her life is not partic- Anita Lobel
ularly Jewish. "I am
sort of international," she reflects. "I
like being an American. I don't go to
temple or do any of these things.
Living in New York City, it's all there. >7
Even so, a Jewish ethos exerts
inescapable influence. The woman who
does not see herself as a survivor never-
theless perceives of the Jewish people as
both eternally vulnerable and eternal
survivors.
"I don't know what it is," she muses.
"Jews can't help being smart and
funny and really grabbing at opportu-
nities. I don't know what it is with the
Jewish spirit.
'And the literacy of Jews! The fact
that you assume you have to focus on
words and it doesn't have to be Jewish
words. Just words. That's always
there." II

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71

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