Amherst, MA—The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is pleased to present Magician of the Modern: The Art of Leonard Weisgard, on view from March 8 to June 5, 2016. This major American retrospective celebrates the award-winning career of renowned picture book illustrator Leonard Weisgard and marks the 100th anniversary of his birth. Weisgard (1916-2000) was the first American illustrator to bring the dynamic new visual language of modernism to the picture book. In a career that spanned six decades and over 200 publications, Weisgard rewrote the rules for illustrating books for the youngest ages, discarding the sentimental realism of the past in favor of a kinetic, playful, semi-abstract approach.
Weisgard’s interest in the quality of children’s books began when he was just eight years old. As a schoolboy in New York City, he was dissatisfied with the books supplied by the public schools he attended. He found the illustrations monotonous and thought that the world “could not be all that dreary and limited to only one color.” He went on to study dance with Martha Graham and prepared for a career in modern dance. But when a leg injury dashed his hopes in that direction, he pivoted to graphic design and, with encouragement from a high school art instructor, enrolled in the art teacher-training program of Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Weisgard was still a student at Pratt when he published his first illustrations in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, House and Garden, The American Magazine, and Good Housekeeping. He was just 21 in 1937 when The New Yorker accepted his first cover design. That same year, he also published a picture book, Suki: The Siamese Pussy, followed by an adaptation of Cinderella.