Died August 12, 1986 in Kingston City, New York
The 1960's saw much experimentation in the field of children's illustrations with a marked increase in drawings with sharp, angular figures, muted colors and representational or cartoon-like styles. Evaline Ness, an illustrator and author of children's books thrived in this environment.
While she is principally remembered for her 1967 Caldecott winning story, Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine, her work is present across the decade but often unrecognized as being by a single artist. Ness wrote and illustrated her own books, illustrated books by others, and produced the covers for numerous well known writers. Many people know and love Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins, without realizing that Ness did the original cover in 1961. Similarly, Alexander Lloyd is famous for his Prydain Chronicles, the very distinctive covers of which were produced by Ness.
The principle reason, I suspect, that Ness's work goes unrecognized is a tribute to her versatility. While her main medium might be in ink and wash illustrations, she produced art across a wide range of media including paintings, drawings, sketches, serigraphs, lithographs, woodblocks, etc. and in a variety of styles.
Ness took a circuitous path to becoming an author and illustrator. She was born in 1911 in Union City, Ohio but grew up in Pontiac, Michigan. As a child she demonstrated an early artistic streak by illustrating the stories told by an older sister with collages she made from cutouts from magazines pictures.
After high school she initially attended Ball State Teachers College to become a librarian but this course of study did not suit her. However, one of her early assignments entailed the illustration of a story, King Arthur's Court, and this experience sparked an intense desire to pursue art studies. Abandoning Ball State, Ness enrolled at Chicago Art Institute for the next two years. Continuing her meandering career path, she apparently, not being familiar with the distinction, enrolled in the Fine Arts department rather than what she truly was interested in, the Commercial Art department. Following two years of studies, she did enter the field of commercial and fashion art, producing work for department stores and illustrating for magazines, working initially in Chicago.
It was in Chicago that she met her second husband (a brief earlier marriage having failed), former Treasury Agent Eliot Ness of The Untouchables fame. If you have seen the movie, it is not actually Evaline Ness being portrayed; Eliot Ness was also married multiple times. Eliot and Evaline Ness married in 1938 and remained married till 1946. Though she subsequently remarried a third time to Arnold Bayard (a mechanical engineer) in 1959, she retained the Ness name professionally throughout her career.
She and Eliot Ness moved to Washington, D.C. where she continued her work, then enrolled in classes from 1943-45 at the Corcoran School of Art where she also taught art to children. In 1946 the Ness's divorced and Evaline Ness moved to New York. In New York she illustrated for Seventeen magazine as well as producing fashion drawings for Saks Fifth Avenue. She established her reputation as an illustrator in fashion and advertising and pursued a successful career as a freelance illustrator producing illustrations for such magazines as Sports Illustrated, Ladies' Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping. Later, Ness took a year off from her work to spend time in Italy, once again taking courses in art, this time from the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome from 1951-52.
The first children's book she illustrated was the Story of Ophelia by Mary J. Gibbons in 1954. This was followed in 1957 with her illustrating a book by Charlton Ogburn, The Bridge. This seems to have been in her mind, the true launch of her children's illustration and writing career. After this book, she gave up all her commercial work to focus on children's books.
From 1958 to 1963 she illustrated close to a dozen books by other authors and firmly established her legacy as an illustrator by receiving three Caldecott Honors in a row. During this period, she spent a year in Haiti. Returning from that experience she had a collection of woodcuts for which she then created a story which became her first book, Josefina February brought out in 1963. Her feat of being recognized three years in a row with a Caldecott Honor also began in 1963. She received the award for All in the Morning Early by Sorche Nic Leodhas in 1963, followed by A Pocketful of Cricket by Rebecca Caudill in 1964 and then again in 1965 for Tom Tit Tot: An English Folktale retold by Virginia Haviland. Continuing this string of good fortune and recognition, in 1967 she received the Caldecott Medal for her sixth book as the author and illustrator, Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine.
Sam, Bangs and Moonshine is a superb book on many levels. It is well written in simple, straightforward language that is very accessible to a young child. The media is inks and wash with a combination of block colors and shapes with elements of the graphic rendered in realistic style as well. That is not inherently a style that appeals to me but the integration of the overall artwork with the story overrides what is just an aesthetic bias.
Sam is the only daughter of a widower fisherman living "on a small island, near a large harbor." She has a cat, Bangs, and a little neighbor boy, Thomas, who "believed every word Sam said." Which was unfortunate, given that Sam had as distant a relationship to the truth as a politician up for election. "Not even the sailors home from the sea could tell stranger stories than Sam. Not even the ships in the harbor, with curious cargoes from giraffes to gerbils, claimed more wonders than Sam did. She said her mother was a mermaid, when everyone knew she was dead. Sam said she had a fierce lion at home, and a baby kangaroo. (Actually, what she really had was an old wise cat called Bangs.)"
This inability to distinguish between the reality she lives and the reality she wishes, (the difference between REAL and MOONSHINE, as her father puts it) leads Sam into the position of accidentally imperiling both Thomas and Bangs.
Ness's mastery as an artist and her ability to weave together story and illustrations is exemplified at that stage in the tale when she believes she has caused the demise of her beloved Bangs. Your child is snuggled up next to you, as disconsolate as Sam. You turn the page to read the rest of the text, and there, facing you is a full page illustration of a black cat staring through a window pane with "two enormous yellow eyes." Immediately after fearing the worst, your young child's anxiety is alleviated even before you get to the text.
Her mastery as an author is also on display. It would have been easy and pat for Ness to have made Sam a hero, organizing a rescue of Thomas and Bangs. But life doesn't work that way and children know it. Instead Sam suffers as a child suffers, waiting as the consequences of the actions she set in motion play out. Waiting and not knowing. This is the kind of a story to which a child can emotionally relate; it is their life they are reading about. They know these feelings Sam is feeling.
For a parent there is the pleasure of a story well-told, but there is also the pleasure of a story that packs an emotional punch and a story that helps set some parameters for a child, in this case about truth telling, in such a way that the message is there and received but the story is not about the message. These are the best books of all. Good stories that help you shape your child's understanding of what is right and what is wrong and why it is important and why they need to do the right thing.
I had forgotten just how good this book was till I pulled it down for this essay. We read it to each of our kids as they passed through the ages of three to six and they all enjoyed it, but we were reading so many books to them. Sometimes it is easy to lose track of individual books and their effect. This was one of the special ones.
Ness continued writing and illustrating into 1980's producing some great covers (such as the Lloyd Alexander books) and other wonderful picture books but none of them are now in print. She also, ever experimenting, branched out into producing cut-out coloring books for children.
Evaline Ness passed away August 12, 1986 in Kingston City, New York. Her legacy is a number of distinctively-illustrated, well-told stories that will touch children's hearts and minds.
Sam Bangs and Moonshine by Evaline Ness
A Pocketful of Cricket by Rebecca Caudill and illustrated by Evaline Ness
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope and illustrated by Evaline Ness Suggested
Evaline Ness Bibliography
Story of Ophelia by Mary J. Gibbons and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1954
The Bridge by Charlton Ogburn and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1957
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Pope and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1958
Lonely Maria by Elizabeth Coatsworth and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1960
Ondine, the Story of a Bird Who Was Different by Maurice Osborne, Jr. and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1960
Listen--The Birds; Poems by Mary B. Miller and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1961
Across from Indian Shore by Barbara Robinson and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1962
Macaroon by Julia Cunningham and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1962
Thistle and Thyme: Tales and Legends from Scotland by Sorche Nic Leodhas and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1962
Where Did Josie Go? by Helen E. Buckley and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1962
Josefina February by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1963
A Gift for Sula Sula by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1963
All in the Morning Early by Sorche Nic Leodhas and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1963
Funny Town by Eve Merriam and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1963
The Princess and the Lion by Elizabeth Coatsworth and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1963
Exactly Alike by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1964
Pavo and the Princess by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1964
Some Cheese for Charles by Helen E. Buckley and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1964
Candle Tales by Julia Cunningham and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1964
Josie and the Snow by Helen E. Buckley and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1964
A Pocketful of Cricket by Rebecca Caudill and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1964
A Double Discovery by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1965
Coll and His White Pig by Lloyd Alexander and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1965
Tom Tit Tot: An English Folk Tale by Virginia Haviland and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1965
Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Italy by Virginia Haviland and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1965
Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1966
Pierino and the Bell by Sylvia Cassedy and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1966
Josie's Buttercup by Helen E. Buckley and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1967
Mr. Miacca: An English Folk Tale by Joseph Jacobs and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1967
The Truthful Harp by Lloyd Alexander and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1967
Kellyburn Braes by Sorche Nic Leodhas and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1968
Long, Broad, and Quickeye by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1969
Joey and the Birthday Present by Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1969
A Scottish Songbook by Sorche Nic Leodhas and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1969
The Girl and the Goatherd; or This and That and Thus and So by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1970
Some of the Days of Everett Anderson by Lucille Clifton and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1970
Do You Have the Time, Lydia? by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1971
Everett Anderson's Christmas Coming by Lucille Clifton and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1971
Too Many Crackers by Helen E. Buckley and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1971
Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog by Sarah Catherine Martin and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1972
Don't You Remember? by Lucille Clifton and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1973
The Woman of the Wood: A Tale from Old Russia by Algernon David Black and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1973
Yeck Eck by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1974
The Steamroller, A Fantasy by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1974
A Wizard's Tears by Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1975
American Colonial Paper House: To Cut out and Color by Evaline Ness 1975
Amelia Mixed the Mustard, and Other Poems by Evaline Ness 1975
The Lives of My Cat Alfred by Nathan Zimelman and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1976
The Warmint by Walter de la Mare and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1976
Paper Palace: To Cut out and Color by Evaline Ness 1976
The Devil's Bridge by Charles Scribner, Jr. and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1978
What Color Is Caesar? by Maxine Kumin and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1978
Four Rooms from the Metropolitan Museum: To Cut out and Color by Evaline Ness 1978
A Victorian Paper House: To Cut out and Color by Evaline Ness 1978
Marcella's Guardian Angel by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1979
A Shaker Paper House: To Cut out and Color by Evaline Ness 1979
Fierce the Lion by Evaline Ness and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1980
The Hand-Me-Down Doll by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Evaline Ness 1983
Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander and cover designed by Evaline Ness
The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander and cover designed by Evaline Ness
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander and cover designed by Evaline Ness
The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander and cover designed by Evaline Ness
The High King by Lloyd Alexander and cover designed by Evaline Ness
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell and cover designed by Evaline Ness 1960