An Extraordinary Evening with Charles Santore

An Extraordinary Evening with Charles Santore

BCiS joined the Philadelphia Sketch Club in celebrating one of our generation’s premier illustration Masters

The audience in the upstairs gallery of the Philadelphia Sketch Club witnessed a magical evening Friday night, wading through lions, crows, mermaids, foxes, Red Coats, cyclones, herons and patriots. The Sketch Club graciously shared its charming and historic Center City home with the Bucks County Illustrators Society, as members of both clubs spent the evening in delighted awe of the extraordinary work and charming commentary of Philadelphia illustrator Charles Santore.

Mr. Santore is certainly one of the most renowned illustrators of classic children’s books today, with titles including The Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, The Wizard of Oz, Paul Revere’s Ride and The Night Before Christmas, among many others. His art is part of the permanent collections of the Brandywine River Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, as well as many private collections. He is a winner of the prestigious Hamilton King Award from the New York Society of Illustrators, where his work was recently featured in a solo exhibition, “Exploring the Narrative Picture.”

Mr. Santore compares the creative process of illustrating a story to ‘staging a ballet or visualizing a musical composition,’ designing his pictures to build throughout the book to a grand finale. The artists and fans who attended this talk, accompanied by a slideshow of his illustrations, saw these processes clearly unfold in the flow of the illustrations for The Wizard of Oz, where all movement in the first half of the book streams left to right, concurrent with the Yellow Brick Road; until the story encounters the Wicked Witch of the West, whose forces move relentlessly right to left. Mr. Santore explained many instances of the ‘choreography’ of his illustrations, and delighted the audience as he pointed to example after example of his deliberate placement of shadows, gestures and framing of elements in his work for Aesop’s Fables and The Little Mermaid.

Amid the many charming and funny stories of his career, Mr. Santore also shared heartfelt moments that touched many in the audience. He read aloud the Longfellow poem Paul Revere’s Ride while slides of his illustrations for the book were shown. Since the story takes place through a moonlit night, the images were powerfully composed between light and dark elements: a massive ship’s hulk, the spark from a horse’s hoof, a brilliant moon, a skyward view through the belfry of the Old North Church. Once during his reading he faltered briefly, murmuring, “I’m sorry, it still gets to me.” His emotion over the bravery in that historic event and the beautiful language of the poem was evident in his voice; his admiration also echoed in the remarkable detail and vitality in his artwork.

Mr. Santore cheerfully stayed after his talk to answer questions, accept congratulations from students and fellow artists, and autograph books. The audience then enjoyed a wonderful dinner together in the dining room of the Sketch Club – a building that since 1860 has served as a meeting place and forum for artists and supporters, counting among its members Thomas Eakins, Henry Pitz, Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, N.C. Wyeth and Thomas Anshutz. The evening concluded with members of America’s oldest club for artists exchanging stories with Bucks County’s newest club for illustrators, where the topics of conversation dealt mostly with art, books, and the incomparable illustrations of Charles Santore.

Thanks to Denise Callanan-Kline for the banner photo.

BCiS expressly thanks Rich Harrington, President of the Philadelphia Sketch Club: Norka Shedlock, Executive Director; the Executive Board of the Sketch Club and Bill Patterson, for all their help and coordination. The Sketch Club has more delightful exhibits, classes and events coming up, for further information please see their website

And warmest thanks to the wonderful Charles Santore for sharing his art and wisdom with us.

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