Today I spent a delightful hour on the phone with a remarkable lady named Sheilah Beckett. Sheilah is 97 years old. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1913, Sheilah Beckett always loved to draw. She doesn't recall being inspired by the Sunday funnies or any specific illustrators from her childhood but she does remember loving the artwork in her children's books and that those illustrations made a big impression on her.
Sheilah never attended art school... she is entirely self-taught. She began working immediately when she graduated from high school. Her first job was creating advertising artwork for a Portland area department store. From there she quickly moved on to Los Angeles and landed a contract to illustrate a series of Gilbert & Sullivan books.
"I went to England," Sheilah tells me, "to catch up with the Gilbert & Sullivan Players - the real ones - and followed them around during their summer season. I did three books... and then the war came."
"The war was just looming when I left, " explains Sheilah. "The Germans were already bombing England."
She chuckles as she remembers, "I came back on a ship called 'The American Farmer.' There were twenty-seven passengers on board and I didn't see a single soul until we arrived in Boston."
"We were hit by this terrible hurricane that went on for days and day. So the only man I saw on the the way across was the Captain who," she says with a tone of reverence, "was a great man."
Sheilah finally landed in New York where she managed to secure an artist representative. That rep found Sheilah some work illustrating children's books.
More importantly, it was during those early days in New York that Sheilah met the man who would become her husband - another illustrator - named J. Frederick Smith. She also connected with a friend from Portland who told her about an art studio where she should try to secure a position...
... an art studio owed by one Charles E. Cooper.
Tomorrow: The First Lady of the Cooper Studio
* My Sheilah Beckett Flickr set