Saturday, May 23, 2009

Richard Cuffari, Illustrator

Contrary to the old saying "you can't judge a book by its cover," I often have judged books by their covers, at least in making the decision to read them or not. When I was thinking of starting a blog, one of the things I really wanted to do was post covers of books I had read as a young teen because they featured artwork by my favorite illustrators.

Well, it's finally time to start.

One such illustrator is Richard Cuffari, whose pen and ink drawings stand out in my mind as a signature style not duplicated by any other illustrator. I wrote about his work briefly before, when discussing Sylvia Louise Engdahl's This Star Shall Abide series.

Cuffari was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1925. His parents were immigrants, and the family didn't have money to support Cuffari's artistic talents, but he won numerous awards for his art during high school. At 18, he entered the army and served in World War II, then studied at Pratt Institute, graduating in 1949. He married and had four children. Aside from raising a family, nothing is mentioned in the short biographies I've seen about what he did between 1949 and 1966, when he began freelancing as a children's book illustrator with a new edition of The Wind in the Willows.

Over the next 12 years, until his much-too-early death in 1978 at the age of 53, he illustrated over 200 books for children (that's almost 20 books a year). He won the Citation of Merit from the New York Society of Children's Illustrators in 1969 and 1970 and the Christopher Award in 1973.

The Cuffari work I always think of first is for The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope. I'm not sure if it's because it was a Newbery Honor book, or because it has a strong female protagonist, or because it's a retelling of the Tam Lin legend, but this has always been my favorite in terms of both its text and image content.

Cover of The Perilous Gard
Unlike most of the books in my collection that feature Cuffari covers, The Perilous Gard also has illustrations inside.

Illustration from inside The Perilous Gard
Cuffari's most famous cover is probably Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door, the sequel to the Newbery-winning A Wrinkle in Time (whose cover was designed by another all-time favorite of mine, Ellen Raskin). Ironically, I've owned a copy of this book for years but never realized the art was by Cuffari... probably because of the way it uses color and also the fact that it has no human figures in it.

Cover of A Wind in the Door
Cuffari did at least one other cover for a L'Engle book, which I confess I haven't read:

Cover of Dragons in the Water
I picked up the next book, The Testing of Tertius, because it had a Cuffari cover, and in spite of its unintelligible title. I quickly found out it was a sequel to a book called Merlin's Mistake (which didn't have a Cuffari cover), so I read that, too.

Cover of The Testing of Tertius
The stories are about three teenagers in the time of King Arthur and Merlin. One of the boys, named Tertius (his older brothers' names are Primus and Secundus, get it now?) is Merlin's godson, and, it turns out, protege.

There are some nifty inside illustrations in Tertius, particularly this one of Merlin being cast under a spell by the evil enchanter Urlik.

Illustration of Merlin blending into the body of another enchanter with a malicious look on his face
Another book I read just because of its cover...

I only read it once, though, so I must not have thought too much of it. But I remembered it enough to buy it when I found a used hard cover.

Then there are the books I've acquired as an adult, but never read when I was a teen.

Cover of Joshua, the Czar and the Chicken Bone Wish
This one came out in 1978, after I was in college, so that explains why I didn't see it.

I also recently stumbled across Robin Palmer's A Dictionary of Mythical Places while at a book sale, and snapped it up because of the Cuffari illustations.

Cover of A Dictionary of Mythical Places

There are some pretty fantastic drawings, including this one labeled the Lands of Monstrous Peoples.

Illustration of two cyclops, a man with a giraffe-like neck, a wolf-headed man and and a headless figure
When I looked up Cuffari on the web, I discovered that the University of Southern Mississippi's de Grummond Collection has the cover artwork for A Wind in the Door, as well as covers and inside art from Rosemary Sutcliff's The Capricorn Bracelet and Ester Wier's The Hunting Trail, and some pieces from Cuffari's 1966 version of The Wind in the Willows.

The Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota has the original art for The Perilous Gard cover. Another item I'll have to go see some day!

Finally, I have to report that writing this post led to a small spate of purchases on Alibris and (The Capricorn Bracelet, The Wind in the Willows and The Hunting Trail). I'll post those covers when they arrive.

Note: The biographical material is from the University of Southern Mississippi's page about its Cuffari collection. They cited the Fifth Book of Junior Authors & Illustrators, pp. 90-91; Major Authors and Illustrators, pp. 605-608; and Something about the Author, vol. 6, pp. 55-57.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this info. I've loved Cuffari's work since elementary school in the early 80's, when I read The Galactic Rejects by Andrew J. Offut, illustrated by Cuffari.

Another book to check out - The Winged Colt of Casa Mia by Betsy Byars, illustrated by Cuffari.

Ms. Yingling said...

I personally love his illustrations, but they are the kiss of death for books in my library. Styles change, I guess, but they are always very evocative covers!