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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Susan Perl: "I am a ham."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Early in her career Susan Perl met an artist's rep named Helen Wohlberg who suggested she try book illustration. It may be the best advice Perl ever received.

In 1955 she illustrated her first book, Opera Stars in the Sun, and two years later, her second, The Favorite Place.

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An avalanche of book illustration assignments too numerous to list followed in the ensuing years.

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Perl's work was ideal for children's story books...

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... but with of her ability to stretch stylistically, authors and editors found her just as appealing a choice to illustrate books targeted at older audiences. Over the years Perl illustrated a variety of quirky, humorous book subjects.

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There is always a genuine sense of humour in Perl's work. Its clear she embraced the material she illustrated.


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She once told an interviewer, "Surely if I had not become an artist, I would have been an actress."

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"I am a ham."


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How else to explain the authenticity and humour with which Perl's people act out their roles in every one of her pictures.

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It must surely be her 'inner actress' giving a command performance on a stage made of paper and ink.

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Although Susan Perl never had any children of her own...

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... thousands of them sprang fully formed from her imagination over the course of her career.

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In the mid-1950s, Perl began a long and mutually rewarding relationship with the children's clothing label, Health-tex.

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These charming, fun, distinctive ads ran for years and demonstrated once again Perl's innate skill of observation.

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Her models, drawn directly in ink from memory, were her nieces and nephews, the many children who lived in her building, and the many more she observed while out walking in the city.

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As one interviewer described, Perl's kids are "real children: all sizes and shapes with wonderful, authentic children's faces - appealingly ugly, freckled and buck-toothed, wide-eyed and pudgy."

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"Their expressions are both impish and impudent, angelic and innocent, gleeful and mischievous."

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"Susan has a wonderful capacity for capturing the essence of childhood in her deft drawings...

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... they look and act like children we all know."

Concluded tomorrow.

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