Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Horse Book Illustrators, Part Two: Wesley Dennis

This post is one in a series on vintage books about horses and ponies, focusing on the men and women who illustrated the books.  I encourage you to find some of these old books and add them to your collection -- and share them with someone else too!

When I spotted Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry at a recent estate sale, I pounced on it.  Here was another hardback version of a favorite children's book that I'd never owned before.  I'd always just checked it out from the school library when I wanted to read it.

When I got the book home, I flipped open the cover of Brighty of the Grand Canyon and stopped.  I'd forgotten just how good an illustrator Wesley Dennis (1903-1966) really was.  

That is a nice landscape of the Grand Canyon.  But as a kid, you don't notice the details of that Wonder of the World; you're too busy looking at Brighty the donkey.  You can almost hear his song.

Look at that face.  Did Wesley Dennis the artist know donkeys?  

Yes, he did.

Mule and Donkey.  Illustration by Wesley Dennis from My Brimful Book, 1960.

And horses.  Did he know horses.

Marguerite Henry said of Wesley Dennis:  "This artist saw beyond hide and hair and bone. You could see that he understood and loved animals, that he was trying to capture their spirit, personality and expression."

Here are some illustrations by Wesley Dennis from horse books by Marguerite Henry.  First, Justin Morgan Had a Horse.

Closeup of the illustration of Little Bub and Ebenezer with the larger horses.
Their eyes tell the story.

From King of the Wind, the 1949 Newbery Award Winner for excellence in children's literature:

Although Dennis is best-known for his work with Marguerite Henry, he also illustrated books by other authors.    These two below, and the illustration of the mule and donkey above, are from the 1960 edition of a children's book of poetry and stories called My Brimful Book.  (A lady named Tasha Tudor did some of the other illustrations in it; you might have heard of her as well.)  I found a copy of My Brimful Book at an estate sale as well:

There is a website dedicated to the art of Wesley Dennis that you must see, if you love his work.

It's full of biographical details, reproductions of some unpublished art, and copies of his illustrations for newspapers, advertising and magazines.  I found one of the magazines at another estate sale last year:

The website also has reproductions of greeting cards with Dennis' art:

Seeing all the art by Wesley Dennis that I was not previously familiar with, reminds me that I need to look more carefully at the old newspapers and magazines that I see at estate sales.  You never know when you're going to find a picture that speaks to your heart.

Here's a link to Part One of this series, on Paul Brown:

1 comment:

  1. I recently found (but did not buy) an edition of Steinbeck's Red Pony that Wesley Dennis illustrated, circa the 1940s (complete with wartime paper rationing notice inside). The pictures were very nice, but the story itself is too depressing for me - and I say that as someone who has read a lot of Marguerite Henry books. lol