Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Art of Childcraft

Has there ever been a textbook series quite so fabulous as the Childcraft books from Field Enterprises Educational Corporation of Chicago, Illinois? I know I'm not the only one to have discovered these gems - TI list member Ward Jenkins' recently posted about his collection of children's books, textbooks, maps, cookbooks etc. In the fourth photo down you can see the spine of a Childcraft book.

I've managed to find three Childcraft volumes at local second hand book stores. Flipping through them brought back hazy memories of reading this series at good ol' Prince Philip Primary School when I was a little tyke in the early seventies.

Now at age 41, after these last few years of studying the work of so many illustrators, I'm thoroughly impressed by the volume and variety of art that the publisher used.

Many names and styles I was familiar with, but some really impressive work was by artists who were new to me. For example, these great pieces by Chicago artist Carl Kock (pronounced "Coke").

Thanks once again to the internet, I was able to locate the artist's current gallery work and contact info. I spoke with him on the phone yesterday and was overwhelmed by his genial personality and storied career.

Carl Kock designed a fire safety poster in highschool that won him a one year scholarship at the Art Institute of Chicago. During that first year he entered another contest administered by the Famous Artist School and won a second one year scholarship. But he never had a chance to use it - he had already been offered employment at a large Chicago art studio: Stephens, Biondi and DiCicco Studios. He would spend the next fourteen years rubbing shoulders with some of Chicago's - and the country's - finest illustrators.

Kock did not, however, fit in with the typical mid-fifties commercial art scene involving, as he put it, "good-looking people standing next to a refrigerator". He was more interested in the stylized work being done mostly by European artists featured in publications like Graphis. For example, he cites the work of Antonio Frasconi as highly influential, along with Pushpin Studios artists Lionel Kalish and Arno Sterngras.

This presented a quandary for the salesmen at SBD who didn't know what to do with Carl Kock's stylized work. Luckily, some of the younger, hungrier salesmen were willing to take Kock's samples around and he soon had his first assignment for a magazine published by Abbot Laboratories.

Soon after came a phone call from Art Paul, the A.D. of an upstart publication called "Playboy", that had recently moved into the building next door to SBD. Bear in mind that Carl Kock's contemporaries were still in art school at the time he was working full time at a major national art agency, receiving assignments from nationally distributed publications!

Decades of professional work followed those early assignments, first at SBD, later in a studio partnership with illustrator/designer John Solarz. Along the way Kock illustrated a dozen children's books, had several pieces accepted into the Society of Illustrators annual awards book and had articles written about him in prestigeous industry publications.

Today, at age 71, Kock has successfully made the transition from commercial artist to gallery painter. He also spends two days a week conducting art workshops for seniors, "and", says the affable artist,"two days a week are my 'personal-time' days."

You can find these images at full size in my Carl Kock Flickr set.


  1. great post! that was some great art and an even better story behind it! thanks!

  2. Thanks jayenti - and I love what you're doing with your terrific blog.