The countdown to Christmas begins on a sad note this year: Sheilah Beckett passed away on November 17th. She was 100 years old.
I was honoured to have had the opportunity to speak with Sheilah on a couple of occasions. We talked at length on the phone about her remarkable life and career. Those conversations became the basis for articles that appeared here on the TI blog and in Illustration magazine.
A friend once asked me what I would do after I retire from illustration. I couldn't answer because it never occurred to me that one would ever consider giving up something that came as naturally as eating or breathing.
Sheilah Beckett must have felt the same way. She was still illustrating books and taking on private commissions long after most anyone else would have set down their pencil or paintbrush for the last time.
At the time of her passing, Sheilah was working on a new "Little Golden Book" for Random House - illustrating The Nutcracker - and working digitally, with a Wacom tablet in Photoshop! Can you imagine? How amazing! How inspiring!
Sheilah's son Sean told me his mom "had been very tired those last few days. She saw her doctor and there was nothing wrong with her other then being 100 years old. She had had lunch with my brother and said "this is ridiculous I can't lie around like this! I need to get back to work!" So Ian went to turn the computer on for her. He went to get her and found she was gone. So she was working right up to the end."
I think, in a way, I had come to take Sheilah Beckett for granted... that she would somehow miraculously always be there, working away at some marvelous new creation. For me, she was the living embodiment of tireless energy and enthusiastic inventiveness. She seemed to carry within her an eternal flame of the love of illustration.
Just today a note arrived in the mail from Sheilah's sons, Sean and Ian. In it they wrote, "She was not a believer in funerals or memorials... she would not want flowers or a ceremony, but for you to just keep a fond memory of her in your heart, and she would be happy."
The vessel that carried the flame may have expired, but that fire will burn bright so long as Sheilah Beckett's art continues to delight and inspire us; her many friends, fans and admirers.
Rest in peace, Sheilah Beckett.