Central Library – The Gladys English Collection
We visited the center of all things, the tree trunk of the LAPL’s branch system — the Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles. After we strolled around the 2nd floor rotunda and looked at the beautiful murals and said hello to one of our favorite Children’s Literature Departments in Los Angeles, we met up with Rudy Ruiz from Digitization and Special Collections who took us up to the 3rd floor to the Rare Books Department.
I’m going to rephrase that as — the Rare Books AND Rare Children’s Original Book Art Department, because Gladys English’s Collection of Original Illustrations for Children’s Books is why we wanted to visit!
The Gladys English Collection — children’s book art paintings and drawings and various media, is found in the Rare Books Department at Central Library (and anyone can make an appointment to see them). I originally thought the collection was art from England (yes, I thought that because of Gladys English’s last name, oops). What I didn’t know was that two women, Gladys English and Althea Warren, helped preserve such amazing works of art, now just called the Gladys English Collection (no real ties to England that I’m aware of now). These women collected original art from children’s books artists – and there are boxes and boxes (12 gigantic boxes!) full of beautiful, large paintings etc. . . .
According to LAPL, the Gladys English Collection, from the Children’s Literature Department, houses over 200 original illustrations for children’s books, many by award-winning illustrators, that have been gathered over the years as a tribute to Gladys English, the former Coordinator of Children’s Services for the Los Angeles Public Library (I can’t believe there is no Wikipedia page for her!). Most of the works were completed before 1960.
My daughter Riley, my mother Gail, and our lovely Special Collections specialist Rudy Ruiz, guided us through a random box he pulled from the shelf (since I did not have any specific work I wanted to see when I filled out the online request- just give us an example of what you have, I asked when I made the appointment!)
I do wish all of these exquisite images were out on display somewhere and not hidden away in boxes. . . because, wow. They are truly remarkable.
Works from Leo Politi, Tomie dePaola. . . and many, many more! I can’t read all of the tags I took pictures of, sadly, so I need to return to get all of the artists’ names. The ones I can make out, are: Graham Booth, James Stevenson, Robert Lawson, Jean George, Evaline Ness, Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, Beni Montresor, Leo Lionni . . .
Each one was so beautiful. They could have all been on walls in art museums.
I think Riley is the youngest researcher at 26 months to visit the Rare Books room (remember, you can make an appointment!) and she sometimes had to take a little rest.
Rudy was so gentle with each piece and told us about Gladys and Althea, who, we were both surprised to realize, do not have any library branches named after them. . . and since it’s Pride Month, it was nice to hear about the two women’s long relationship.
I wish we could have looked through the other 11 boxes (this was just box number 5! and I did not take a lot of pictures) – I guess I’ll have to make another appointment for a whole day. Maybe the LAPL will exhibit the art in their gallery but I’m not sure how that works with copyright issues. I’m not even sure I should be posting these images here on this blog, but it seems like children’s book enthusiasts would love to see these masterpieces. I forget just how big original art is – because children’s books are, well, book sized — and when you see these works up close they are so large. Breathtaking, really.
One day I’ll open an International Children’s Bookstore – with books in original languages so that grandparents can read in their native tongue to their grandchildren (did you know that Los Angeles is home to immigrants from over 140 countries, and that the LAPL offers citizenship resources). . . Maybe LAPL will loan the Gladys English Collection on a rotating basis so people can come in and see the walls lined with beauty from original children’s book art. (I can dream about a future bookstore, ok?) And of course there will be a resident cat who rules over the bookstore.
I can’t thank Rudy and LAPL enough for their welcome and courtesy with sharing the love of children’s books and children’s book art! You should all make an appointment and check out what other gems are hiding in Central Library’s Rare Books Department.
I can’t wait to see more of the Gladys English Collection – and learn more about Althea Warren and Gladys English (see page 19 of a great article written by Andrew J. Brozyna). Brozyna explains that, “Althea was the driving force in creating the Gladys English Memorial Collection for the California Library Association. Althea and a small committee from the CLA spent much of 1957 and 1958 seeking artwork either by donation or purchase. Althea personally wrote hundreds of letters to artists, publishers, and librarians. In 1989 it was acquired by the LAPL. Simply called the Gladys English Collection today, it now contains over 200 original illustrations from children’s books (mostly published before 1960), including more than twenty pieces by Caldecott Medal recipients.”
Because we were in the Rare Books Department, we did in fact see two actual books during our visit. Rudy showed us The Child’s History of the United States by Charles Goodrich. . .
and The Illustrated Book of Natural History in Four Parts for the American Sunday-School Union.
They had the most divine book smell. . .
Next time you’re in DTLA, visit Central Library. I can’t think of a better way to spend the day. We even had lunch on the first floor, and bought a plush puppy at the Library Store on our way out. . .
Remember, it’s Summer Reading Challenge time! Sign up, read, discover and explore.