Rarely Seen Children’s Book Illustrations Spotlight 30-Year Creative Partnership Between Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin
New Brunswick, N.J. – The name Roger Duvoisin is familiar to Zimmerli audiences: the museum’s gallery dedicated to its collection of original children’s book illustrations is named in his honor, more than half of that collection consists of Duvoisin’s artwork, and numerous exhibitions have celebrated this beloved author and illustrator. Now, Mood Books: The Children’s Stories of Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin delves into one of the most important aspects of his career, a partnership with author Alvin Tresselt that spanned three decades and resulted in 18 books. Now on view through March 13, 2022, at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, the exhibition features more than 30 original watercolor and gouache illustrations from four of their collaborations: Hide and Seek Fog, It’s Time Now!, What Did You Leave Behind?, and White Snow, Bright Snow, all published by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard in New York. The images capture an array of feelings evoked by common experiences that tend to stick with us throughout life in very uncommon ways.
One of the most inspired and prolific pairings in children’s books, the combination of Tresselt’s poetic and rhythmic language with Duvoisin’s captivating illustrations creates engaging stories that celebrate nature and cultivate a love for life’s small moments. “Mood books were a new type of genre in children’s literature, unlike the typical fantasy and adventure tales,” said Nicole Simpson, the Zimmerli’s Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, who organized the exhibition. “These books did not focus on the actions or personalities of iconic characters, but marveled in the natural wonders of our everyday environments. They encourage children to slow down, to observe and appreciate our constantly changing world.”
In 1947, Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin collaborated on their first and most widely known book, White Snow, Bright Snow, which won the prestigious Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association the following year. This story of a small town transformed by a winter storm became an instant classic and remains a perennial favorite more than 70 years later. Tresselt and Duvoisin transport readers on a vivid journey as residents adapt their daily lives to the changing landscape, from the first gentle flakes to the thick blanket of snow, through the eventual thaw. These particular illustrations preserve Duvoisin’s original monochromatic colors, with yellow, red, and green added during the printing process to produce the multicolor, published illustrations.
Hide and Seek Fog (1965) documents how a sudden atmospheric event interrupts the daily activities of a seaside village in Cape Cod over three days. Boats race to the docks and families flee the beach as the air around them rapidly turns gray. Adults retreat indoors, taking up mundane chores. Children, however, find magic in the unexpected and mysterious weather conditions. They take advantage of the obscured environment to play hide-and-seek outside. Eventually, the sun shines and a breeze blows the fog out to sea, but not before the young people recognize the unique gift that nature has offered them.
The rhythmic changes of the seasons can bring a sense of order to life, even in the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s Time Now! (1969) charts how a city evolves throughout the course of a year. Tresselt and Duvoisin capture the passage of time and praise the uniqueness every season brings: new sights, sounds, and smells, as well as activities, from sidewalk games and street carnivals to ice skating in the park. Also on view is an example of a “dummy” book painted by Duvoisin. This small-scale model is submitted to the publisher during the early stages of production, providing a sense of the layout and flow, allowing for changes, if necessary, prior to creating the final, full-scale illustrations.
What Did You Leave Behind? (1978) reminds us what we take away from experiences, both physical and emotional. Whether they are souvenirs, such as flowers picked on a nature walk or a prize won at a fair, or vivid memories of ice sparkling on a tree branch or the thrill of swinging on a Ferris wheel. This book encourages children to pay careful attention to all of their senses and savor the impressions that can last a lifetime.
The illustrations on view – many exhibited for the first time – are from the Zimmerli’s permanent collection, which includes more than 2,000 works by Duvoisin. The majority were donated by his wife and frequent collaborator, Louise Fatio Duvoisin. In recognition of his family’s generosity, the Roger Duvoisin Gallery, a space dedicated to the museum’s extensive collection of original artwork for children’s books, was named in his honor in 1993.
Mood Books: The Children’s Stories of Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin, organized by Nicole Simpson, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings, is on view from September 1, 2021 to March 13, 2022. (The exhibition was postponed from spring 2020 due to the pandemic closure.) Bilingual labels, in English and Spanish, accompany the artwork. To schedule a class or group tour, please contact the Education Department (firstname.lastname@example.org) at least three weeks in advance.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Roger Duvoisin (1904–80) was one of the most prolific and beloved children’s authors and illustrators of the 20th century. Born in Geneva, Switzerland, he had a varied early artistic career, including mural painting, scenery design, and ceramics. He moved to New York in the mid-1920s to work as a textile designer and soon wrote and illustrated his first children’s book, A Little Boy Was Drawing (1932). He went on to illustrate more than 140 books, around 40 of which he wrote himself, while also developing long-term collaborations with other authors, including his wife, Louise Fatio Duvoisin, and Alvin Tresselt. Many of his most popular books feature animal characters, such as The Happy Lion series. For nearly five decades, he lived on a farm in Gladstone, New Jersey, surrounded by animals, art, and family.
Alvin Tresselt (1916–2000) was a pioneering author whose evocative language and deep appreciation for nature heralded a new genre in children’s literature. Born in Passaic, New Jersey, he had an early career as a display designer and advertising copywriter for the New York City department store B. Altman & Co. In 1946, he wrote his first children’s book, Rain Drop Splash, featuring illustrations by Leonard Weisgard, which was named a Caldecott Honor Book. He authored more than 50 books, including Sun Up, The Dead Tree, and The Mitten, an adaptation of a classic Ukrainian folktale. His longest partnership was with Roger Duvoisin, spanning 30 years and producing 18 books. Tresselt served as editor of Humpty Dumpty’s Magazine, executive editor and vice president of Parents’ Magazine Press, and the dean of faculty at the Institute of Children’s Literature in Connecticut.