“One evening at the Punch Table Shepard was sitting next to E V Lucas who was then chairman of Methuen’s, the publishers. They had been offered some verses for children by A A Milne and wanted an artist to illustrate them. Shepard jumped at the opportunity. Author and illustrator met and it at once became obvious that they would be able to work happily together.”
Rather than being a biography of the illustrator and artist, Ernest H. Shepard, and his long life working with many illustrious and well-known figures of the 20th century; this book is an art collection, with companion text as a kind of general time-line to which each art piece can be placed in its correct historical context. The book opens up with the disclaimer that Ernest Shepard himself wished for no biography to be written about him, until thirty years after his death. It is likely this is the reason that the book itself rarely delves very deep into the person behind the artist, the mind behind the art. Arthur R Chandler has been given access and right to share some of the sketches, art work, photographs, and even some documents that now belong to the University of Surrey. Within the book’s pages we find things such as diplomas of military service, personal notes of Shepard himself, photographs of him and his family members, as well as many of his art pieces. This book is first and foremost a kind of coffee table book, although it does contain quite a bit of text along-side it.
As far as the text itself goes, I mentioned “time-line” for a reason – it is not much more than a point by point time line written in prose form. The text itself is divided into miniature paragraphs, form-wise, while also having about as much life as a Wikipedia entry. There is nothing in the writing itself to bring this person or artist to life, nor are you really given more than the basic facts of his life. The book’s text could be said to be a compilation of all known facts that make up the man Ernest H. Shepard, giving no place for speculation or emotional background to either art or man. The text is only there for one reason; to give each piece of the art biography its necessary situational clues. Think of the text in this book as a Holmesian detective’s pile of notes; the foot prints, the family registers, the school records, those kind of details to a life that make up only the most material outline of a whole character.
All this said, the art included within these pages makes the book an absolute treasure trove for any fan of Ernest H. Shepard’s work. Not only did he do some fantastic line-art in his life time, worked on major projects like Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows among the most known but also did major work in connection to the war, illustrations for text books and for Punch for many, many years. He also had an incredibly long career, and basically kept busy with his work until his death in 1976, aged 96 years old. The book is largely lacking in illustrations from Winnie the Pooh, probably because the rights for all Pooh characters (and possibly most of the art work in connection to them) now belong to the Disney company who bought the rights in the 1960s. These are likely to be found in other books, same as can be said for The Wind in the Willows illustrations that are sparse in this collection. Otherwise, it is both extensive as a source of Shepard’s art work and lovingly published in lush paper and great quality of all the art, photography and memorabilia included.
About the Book
Title: The Story of E. H. Shepard – The Man Who Drew Pooh
Author: Arthur R. Chandler
Year of Publication: 2001
Publisher: Jaydem Books
Genre: art, art biography