Although I did not net know it, I first became aware of Robert Lawson as a child.
It was through his illustrations for the classic book The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf that I’m pretty certain I started to appreciate illustration as having an effect on a story rather than simply complimenting it.
Lawson lived from 1892-1957 and is the first person to have won both the Caldecott Medal (for They Were Strong and Good) and the Newbery Medal (for Rabbit Hill). It’s through The Story of Ferdinand that I knew him best, though. Ferdinand tells the story of a young bull who would rather spend his days sniffing daisies under the shade of his favorite cork tree than fight in bull fights.
Released a few months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the book was seen by many supporters of Francisco Franco of Spain as a pacifist book and summarily banned in countries that supported Franco. Leaf, however, always maintained that he had written it to showcase the talents of his friend Lawson.
Lawson had an immense talent for illustration and the rare ability to illicit extremely vivid depictions of a subject’s personality in his drawings, whether they were animal or human.
Strangely enough, I rediscovered Lawson through Edward Gorey. In the early 1970s, Edward donated a number of books to the Sturgis Library in Cape Cod. One of these books, entitled Robert Lawson, Illustrator came up for auction and I was able to buy it. This began my renewed fascination with Lawson’s work.