A Vintage Find: Discovering Illustrator Janet LaSalle

There is an antique market just a ten-minute-around-the-corner walk from where I live. The Antiques of Winfield is a 6000 sq. ft, three-story building with over 55 booths of rare vintage toys, refurbished antique furniture, real and divine characteristic genre clothing, lapel pins, and of course, visibly-stained books. unnamed-8The first book I ever bought at A of W is a pocket-size, floral covered book of essays written by, R. W. Emerson for $12. The publication date is undocumented, but the publisher is here in Illinois; it is my goal one day to investigate its date. On the inside cover is an inked, scrolled inscription, “A Happy New Year, to Miss Ana from Ida.” It’s just lovely.

However, that is not the book I want to talk about. When my daughter came out for a quick visit a short week ago, we headed over to A of W where I purchased a whimsical, beautifully illustrated book. I confess, unnamed-2she saw the book first, showed it to me gleaming “Look, ma! Look how pretty this is!” It was beautiful, and I was slightly miffed that I didn’t find it first. I could tell she wasn’t going to part with it by the way her talons were clutching onto its breakfast. She saw the disappointed look in my eye (or was it a pathetic, pouted lip attempt at getting the book myself?) and kindly said “We can share.” I conceded. As we waded through the market, my daughter had found a basketful of treasures leading to monetary decision making at the checkout. Ultimately, the eagle released its prey, and I bought the book for $8. I was at the right place at the right time.

Why did we take an interest to this book? Well, first, it’s an adorable children’s book called CINDERELLA at the Ball written by the American author, poet, and educator, Margaret Hillert, published in 1970 by Follett Publishing Company, Chicago. The pages are torn and intermittently stamped with the words “Discarded By Elk Grove Village Public Library.” This is just crying “Take me home!” Coincidently, it is the typical sad, Cinderella story expressing the inability to catch a man because of her lack of station, status, or because “she looks funny.” Cinderella has been overlookunnamed-3ed and discarded. It is not really the message we want to send to our children, but the book does have its pluses and those pluses are what I want to focus on. This particular book is written with a monosyllabic vocabulary designed for the beginner reader. Hillert was a first-grade teacher and implemented 44 preprimary sight words bolstering repetition and easy recognition. The outside cover of this particular book has years of obvious fingerprints along with inside blemished smudges from young, busy hands. I was drawn to its attraction of historical use, to someone’s memory of a childhood fallen into the future. Luckily for me, it had fallen into my hands.

Secondly, and vividly, are the illustrations. unnamed-7The pages are painted with bold, bright colors, backgrounded with blotted water color, and its main images are what appear to be colored markers. There are no distinct, defining outlines around the images or characters which usually accompanies many children’s illustrations.unnamed-1 The illustrations are distinctly and delicately placed with a skewed composition. What I also noticed is the unique blending of remnants of lace layered on bits of images embellishing its look. The slight 3D effect raises the characters to life and there is an urge to touch the pages. It draws you in.

CINDERELLA at the Ball is illustrated by Janet LaSalle who worked in the mid 1950s and forward. I found that she had illustrated for the Better Living series, “When Children Start Dating.” 214812911_34e6c76302_zTake a look at the complete incredible illustrated series on Ward Jenkins’ flickr page. Oh, and take the time to read the captions. They are the best! The series illustrations represent a different style than in the illustrated book. I presume the series may have been done for an adult demographic and market, but you can see the same facial features in both. For example, the V and U-shaped noses and the solid button eyes, either opened or closed, are present in both and seemingly a LaSalle trademark. In any event, it shows LaSalle’s ability to project her art towards different audiences.

SOUND written by Charles D. Neal and illustrated by Janet LaSalle (1962)

There are several other images posted on Pinterest and flickr pages that are wonderful, but I absolutely love these two Christmas Card illustrations on hand-made paper. downloadYou can visibly see her collaged trademark left on the cat’s chest (196?) and in Santa’s wagon (1950). The Santa card with its block print to the cat card with its “pop art” feel display LaSalle’s diverse use in medium, style and impact. Both cards reside at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute. Unfortunately, and to my surprise, I could not find any personal information of birth, death or exact years of when LaSalle lived or worked. I would liked to have put a face to this exceptional women’s art and life. I will keep searching.

AAA_blackath_34725Discovering epoch books has been an internal vocation for my daughter and myself. I, personally veer towards children’s books. We have become our household administrators at adopting and rescuing vintage books. However, we don’t scour to “collect” them, we don’t hunt or investigate them tirelessly like an unsolved murder, but we do seek, peruse and comb through the market and devote time for the pure enjoyment of finding something that’s missing without knowing what has been lost. We’re smelling out that delicious orange. We appreciate and magnet towards the lovely and “discarded.” We rescue the art and bring it back into view. These books and their art find a place in our heart and in our home. After all of this searching, it wasn’t about the book itself we found (ahem, my daughter found) but the life and creation within the book and what it brings to its audience. Apparently, an Amazon patron found this book to be special as well. They’re selling their exact book for $500. I doubt my beautifully disheveled book would fetch that price. It doesn’t matter, I’m not interested in the money; mine is not for sale. “Yes, daughter, we can share.”

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