Throughout my time in the University of Arizona’s Special Collections archives (six months to be exact), I have taken great delight with my encounters with fairy tales, be it intentional or unintentional. Coming from my background in children’s literature studies with the focus on fairy tale traditions, I always keep an eye out for related material, especially when they pop up in the least likely of places when I’m not necessarily searching. One of my favorite discoveries was when I was searching for items for my November showcase featuring military-service and war related material in honor of Veterans Day. In an archival box labeled “WWI and WWII Media”, amongst the Life Magazines with images of war nurses, soldiers, and President Johnson, I discovered beautiful color-reproductions of illustrations featuring classic fairy tale hero(ione)s by the artist Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935). Smith was an American female illustrator of the Golden Age of Illustration who contributed works to books and magazines, such as Harper’s, Ladies Home Journal, and Good House Keeping. Smith was also one of the many artists I had researched only a year earlier for my undergraduate honor’s thesis, so needless to say, I was quite excited with this very unexpected find of the fairy tale protagonists Goldilocks, Cinderella, and Jack .
For my February showcase I decided to highlight the Golden Age of Illustration by displaying 20th century books of fairy tales with illustrations by some of the most notable artists of this era. The golden Age of Illustration was a period of remarkable distinction in book illustration productions between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a result of the advances in technology that permitted detailed and inexpensive reproductions of art that ultimately generated a high public demand for this beautiful new art form. Illustrated fairy tale books became one of the most popular genres, garnering the statues of the ultimate “Gift Book”. Among the leading artists of the Golden Age were Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), Edmund Dulac (1882-1953), and Kay Nielsen (1886-1957).
Among some of my sought-after finds was a 1909 edition of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm illustrated by Rackham, a 1911 edition of Stories from Hans Andersen illustrated by Dulac, and a 1925 edition of Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Nielsen. I also came upon the original de Luxe 1919 and 1920 editions of Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty illustrated by Arthur Rackham (I say original because The Folio Society recently produced facsimiles of these works that I am very familiar with), in which Rackham illustrated the classic fairy tales in silhouette. And to my great delight I discovered that The Sleeping Beauty edition is signed by Arthur Rackham on the colophon, No. 31/625. Although I didn’t have space for all of the beautiful books, all three of the artists were represented in the final showcase piece.