A biography focuses on two prolific and award-winning 20th-century illustrators.
In this work, Cook (Walking Portland, Oregon, 2013) explores the lives and work of Elmer and Berta Hader, artists who produced dozens of picture books, including the winner of the 1949 Caldecott Medal. The volume follows the Haders from their first meeting in 1915 San Francisco (Berta stored Elmer’s painting equipment so he would not have to carry it up Telegraph Hill every day) to Greenwich Village, where they married after Elmer’s return from war, to the idiosyncratic stone house they designed and built themselves in a bucolic Hudson River village. The Haders were part of the writer-artist communities in both San Francisco and New York, and authors Rose Wilder Lane and Katherine Anne Porter were among the frequent weekend guests at their home. Cook also follows the evolution of the Haders’ careers, which became closely entwined after their marriage, as they moved from magazine illustration to children’s books, eventually creating their own in addition to illustrating the words of other authors. The biography examines their work within the broader context of the growing interest in children’s publishing in the first half of the 20th century as well as the impact of the consolidation and mergers in the industry in the 1960s and ’70s. Thanks to Cook’s examination of family archives and a trove of items discovered by a later owner of the stone house, the book is full of insights into the Haders’ blend of bohemian artistry and Depression-era thrift. (After finding a spider in a window, “the Haders fed him flies, thought the web a work of art and said spiders bring good fortune and Elwell brought them luck.”) Although the work restricts itself largely to summaries of the Haders’ books, rather than offering literary or artistic criticism or an analysis of their contemporary relevance, it is still a valuable contribution to the history of children’s literature as well as an enjoyable and well-researched story about two artists devoted to their work, their friends, and each other.
Access to family archives and new material provides the basis for a worthy history of little-known artists.