Thursday, February 23, 2017

Eye-catching dust jacket illustration by Ilonka Karasz

When browsing through some books at a sale in Lancaster last year, it was the dust jacket that caught my eye when I came upon this copy of 1945's The World, the Flesh and Father Smith, by Bruce Marshall.1 It's a well-reviewed and well-regarded novel — described as a slightly comic and poignant tale of a Catholic priest, spanning the first half of the 20th century in a small town in Scotland — but not really my cup of tea, reading-wise.

However, I love the dust jacket illustration, even with its chips and tears and ragged edges. It's the work of Ilonka Karasz (1896-1981), a Hungarian-born artist who immigrated to the United States in 1913 and created an amazing artistic legacy for herself.

Here are some facts about her, from Wikipedia and her obituary in The New York Times:

  • In 1914, Karasz, who was only about 18 at the time, co-founded the European-American artists' collective Society of Modern Art. For a few years in her late teens, she also taught textile design at the Modern Art School.
  • From the 1910s to the 1960s, her designs — inspired equally by folk art and modern art — found their way into textiles, wallpaper, rugs, ceramics, furniture, silverware and toys. She also illustrated children's books, including The Twelve Days of Christmas.
  • Karasz's textile work came for companies including Mallinson, Schumacher, Lesher-Whitman, DuPont-Rayon, Susquehanna Silk Mills, Standard Textile, and Belding Brothers. She was known as a pioneer of modern textile designs requiring the use of the Jacquard loom and became one of the few women to design textiles for airplanes and cars.
  • She began painting covers for The New Yorker in 1924 and continued up to 1973, creating a total of 186 covers. Most featured lively vignettes of daily life viewed from above and drawn using unusual color combinations.

I think the description of her covers for The New Yorker would also apply to her work on The World, the Flesh and Father Smith, though the latter is more subdued. You can check out some of Karasz's amazing (trust me) covers for The New Yorker, plus her other work, at the blog Fishink.2 For more about Karasz, you should also see this terrific 2010 post on a blog titled We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie.

1. From the back-cover blurb: "Bruce Marshall is a dark, smiling man..."
2. Art prints of The New Yorker covers are available from Condé Nast.

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