“Pictures Tell Stories: Children’s Book Illustrations,” a new exhibition from Scottsdale Public Art, opened July 5 at the Civic Center Public Gallery, located inside Scottsdale Civic Center Library, 3839 N. Drinkwater Boulevard.
Running through Sept. 20, 2021, the exhibition features artworks from the collections of two retired librarians, Cathy Bonnell and Mary J. Wong, who agreed to share their passion for children’s literature and illustration. They have hundreds of original artworks from picture books in their collections, and they know how these images and books play a vital role for young minds to see and understand their place in the world. Thousands of children have benefitted from their enthusiasm and advocacy in reading and libraries.
Wong said her collection began after she met Jack Gantos, the Newbery Medal-winning author of the Rotten Ralph books. Wong scheduled him to appear at the school where she worked at the time, and they became friends. During one of his trips to Phoenix, the author gave her an original illustration from “Rotten Ralph.”
“I didn’t realize I could ‘own’ an original illustration from a picture book!” Wong said. “I now have around 200 — maybe more — original illustrations on the walls throughout my house. Adding original illustrations to my collection has become an addiction that soothes my soul.”
Wong, a Peoria resident, spent her career as an elementary special education teacher, reading specialist, and librarian in the Paradise Valley Unified School District. She said illustrations add layers to the story and encourage readers to look beyond the words on the page. And for beginning readers, illustrations can help develop new vocabulary
Bonnell, a Phoenix resident, became hooked on picture books while taking a children’s literature class at California State University, Los Angeles. Here in Arizona, she was a librarian for the Washington School District for 30 years. During her time as a school librarian, Bonnell brought in many children’s book authors and illustrators to talk with the students at her schools. The illustrations had an impact on both the students and the librarian. Soon, she began collecting.
“Many illustrators are happy to sell pieces to you if they can tell you really appreciate it,” she said. “Several have said, ‘I’d rather you have it than stack it under my bed!’ There is barely a space in my home that doesn’t have framed picture book art.”
Through the years, Wong and Bonnell have befriended hundreds of authors and illustrators of children’s books, collecting their original artworks and first edition books. Now, many of those works will be shared with the community through this exhibition.
Among the artworks are illustrations from Juana Martinez-Neal (“Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story” and “La Madre Goose”), Tempe artist Molly Idle (“Flora and the Flamingo” and others), Tucson artist Adam Rex (“Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich”), three-time Pura Belpré Award winner Rafael López (“Drum Dream Girl” and “Tito Puente Mambo King”), Robin Brickman (“One Night in the Coral Sea”) and Wendy Watson (“Bedtime Bunnies”).
Wendy Raisanen, curator of collections and exhibitions for Scottsdale Public Art, first saw Wong’s collection a few years ago. Since that time, she has wanted to curate an exhibition of children’s book art. When she also discovered Bonnell’s collection, she decided to make the exhibition a reality.
“I’m so inspired by the passion they have for the illustrators and authors of children’s picture books,” Raisanen said. “Many of these artists are living in Scottsdale, Phoenix and other towns in Arizona. I hope young artists, illustrators and storytellers can be inspired too.”
Scottsdale Public Art will hold a reception for the exhibition from 10 a.m. to noon Friday, Aug. 20, at the Civic Center Public Gallery. Learn more at ScottsdalePublicArt.org/events. The exhibition is free to view during regular library hours. For current Scottsdale Civic Center Library hours, visit ScottsdaleLibrary.org/locations/.
Through its dynamic partnership with the city of Scottsdale, the nonprofit Scottsdale Arts (formerly known as Scottsdale Cultural Council) creates diverse, inspired arts experiences and educational and outreach opportunities for the community, while fostering active engagement of individuals, businesses, education and government with the arts. Since its founding in 1987, Scottsdale Arts has grown into a regionally and nationally significant, multi-disciplinary arts organization offering an exceptional variety of programs through four acclaimed branches — Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), Scottsdale Public Art and Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation — serving more than 600,000 participants annually. In conjunction with the city of Scottsdale, we also host more than 200,000 people annually on our campus through a robust rentals program.
The mission of Scottsdale Public Art is to make Scottsdale one of the most desirable communities in the country in which to live, work and visit by incorporating art and design projects throughout. In 1985, the city of Scottsdale established Scottsdale Public Art with the goal to enhance the quality of life for its residents and visitors. Since then, more than 100 permanent and temporary public artworks have been commissioned throughout the community. Scottsdale’s program and projects have won local, regional and national awards.