October 2012 | Rebecca Rego Barry

The Picture Books of Maud & Miska Petersham

By definition, picture books offer superb examples of how image and text come together in an artistic way. Some picture book artists, like Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, and Garth Williams, transcend even that definition. A new exhibit and book show that Maud and Miska Petersham, a husband-and-wife team that wrote and illustrated more than one hundred books, belong with that select few.

Endpapers from Miki and Mary: Their Search for Treasures, written and illustrated by Maud and Miska Petersham (Viking, 1934).

Inspired by the North Light: Maud & Miska Petersham is now on exhibit at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum in Woodstock, NY, the town where the Petershams lived and worked from 1920 into the 1960s. Featuring numerous editions of their books, vintage photographs, and original art, the exhibit chronicles their contributions to children's literature. In addition to winning a Caldecott Honor and a Caldecott Medal, the Petershams were recognized by the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Under-the-North-Light-300x300.jpgAn accompanying book, Under the North Light: The Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham (Woodstock Arts, $39.50), by Lawrence Webster, offers colorful, whimsical images alongside painstaking research and even some personal reminiscences. Webster's family was friendly with the Petershams, and she remains friends with the Petershams' granddaughter. (Full disclosure: Lawrence Webster is a friend of mine too; we've worked on local library board issues together.)

Incidentally, the Petershams' books are collectible but not distressingly expensive, ranging from $85 for The Story Book of Corn to $600 for The Rooster Crows, winner of the 1946 Caldecott Medal, at Aleph-Bet Books.