Sunday, November 9, 2008

Leo and Diane Dillon

Lionel (Leo) John Dillon born March 2, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York

Diane Claire Dillon (nee Sorber) born March 13, 1933 in Glendale, California



The Dillons are a husband and wife team of illustrators who have carved out a distinctive niche for themselves over some fortyfive years. Born on opposite coasts of the US, they nevertheless ended up meeting in art school, marrying and then, later fusing their respective artistic talents to yield, as they term it, "a third artist". Remarkably, this third artist is surprisingly versatile, not only working in several different media but also dramatically changing the style of illustration to the needs of each particular story. There is not a unique "Dillon" style to which you can point. Rather, there are a series of distinctive books that are a product of the artistic mutualism of the Dillons themselves, fused with the narrative and circumstances of each particular story.



There is some parallel between the respective childhoods of these two artists. Both loved drawing and painting as children and pursued these interests throughout their childhoods. Leo Dillon was born to Trinidadian emigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York. His father owned a small trucking business and his mother was a dressmaker. Leo Dillon showed alot of artistic talent as a child and was encouraged in this by both his parents. Attending the High School of Industrial Design in New York City, Leo Dillon received training for a career in commercial art. On graduating he enlisted in the US Navy for three years in order to qualify for the GI Bill which would help pay for his college education. Upon completing his stint with the Navy, Dillon enrolled in the Parsons School of Design.



Diane Dillon also evinced much artistic talent and interest as a child. Her father was an inventor and schoolteacher. While he provided some artistic coaching to her, in general there was little encouragement to pursue art with any seriousness. Dillon received her first formal instruction in art in 1951, while attending the Los Angeles City College. Unfortunately, she contracted tuberculosis and had to withdraw from school for a year while she recovered in a sanitarium. Upon her release, she enrolled in Skidmore College in New York where she studied for a couple of years. Having exhausted Skidmore's available instruction in art, Dillon then transferred to the Parsons School of Design.



Now that they were both located in the same school, Leo and Diane quickly came to each other's attention in an early competitive contest of talents. Each saw abilities in the other's work to which they aspired. As they relate:

Diane Dillon on seeing a new work "It was realistic - the subtle shadows of the pins in the cloth and the way the folds were done gave it an extraordinary three-dimensional quality. I was immediately overcome by two feelings: 'I'm in over my head,' and 'Here's a challenge I must meet.' The painting was Leo's , and to this day, his work sets a standard for me."



Leo Dillon: "One day I noticed a painting hanging on the wall at a student exhibition. It was a painting of a chair - an Eames chair - and I knew it had to be by a new student because nobody in our class at the time could paint like that. . . . This artist knew perspective, which is one of the most difficult things a beginner has to learn. . . . This artist was a whole lot better than I. I figured I'd better find out who he was. He was Diane."

Competition and respect soon led to love. They wed in 1957 and had a son, who also became an artist and now works in jewelry design.



Following their studies at Pratt, Leo Dillon worked as an art director for a publisher and Diane Dillon initially had a job in advertising before becoming a homemaker. Leo brought his work projects home which led to design discussions with Diane and then to further forms of collaboration. Eventually they formed a studio, Studio 2 through which they undertook freelance work for a number of years from the late 50's through the 1960's. It was in this period that the "third artist" came into being. This "third artist" was the creator of work arising from two pairs of collaborative hands with no clear demarcations between who contributed what in the creative process. By the 1960's the Dillons had become known for their text book illustrations, book jacket designs , album covers and prints.



Along the way, they began illustrating books. The first, Hakon of Rogen's Saga by Erik C. Haugaard, came out in 1962. However, it was not till 1975, with publication of Verna Aardena's Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale, which they illustrated, that the Dillons really broke into the main-stream. Until then, children's books were one among many lines of work that they did. With the success of Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale, winner of the 1976 Caldecott Medal, they were able to begin focusing on what they most enjoyed doing - illustrating children's books.



The Dillons describe illustrating children's books in their autobiographical entry in The Fifth Book of Children's Authors & Illustrators:

We believe in magic. To sit down with a blank piece of paper and see scenes and characters take form . . . it is magic. There's a voice inside guiding, saying "no, that's not right . . .change that line . . . add a bit here . . . take away there . . . ."



Children accept these things. As adults we lose the faith. The best things come when we let go and accept the guidance from that voice. Maybe that's why we love children's books . . . knowing that they (the children) will understand the zany logic and eagerly accept the impossible.



We came to children's books after many years of adult book jackets, album covers, and advertising art, and found a freedom we didn't know before. When doing a book or record cover, everything must be summed up in a single picture. In a children's book there are pages and pages to build an idea - to add nuances and visual comments.



There are many levels of recognition and understanding. A book can be read again and again with new discoveries: expressions and details that were missed the first time will be discovered the second or third or fourth time.



It has been a form of magic in working together as one artist, and we created a third artist. What takes form on paper is a surprise to both of us and something neither of us would have come up with individually.

The following year, in 1976, the Dillons followed up this success by illustrating Margaret Musgrove's Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions, and again winning the Caldecott Medal. They were the first illustrators to ever win the Caldecott medal in sequential years.



Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears is a folk tale from West Africa while Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions is a collection of traditions highlighting the variety among the many African peoples and their different cultures by focusing on how they live, what they eat, how they dress, etc. Ashanti to Zulu is a merciful antidote to the all-too-frequent approach that treats Africa as some sort of monolithic and homogenous entity when its history and present glory is its sheer variety.



Several hallmarks are evident in these two books. The Dillons invest a lot of time and effort in researching the details of the story which they are to illustrate. Verisimilitude is important to them and is, in part, what makes their illustrations so intriguing and engaging to children. There is a lot to see and much to be learned. A second attribute is the Dillons' effort to match the style of their illustration to the setting and circumstances of the story. Consequently, in these two books, the illustration style is heavy with solid colors, almost in the fashion of woodblocks or batik, characteristic of West Africa. A third attribute is their belief that, while remaining true to the author's text, the illustrator should also complement that text in some fashion, adding yet further to the reading experience. For example, in Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, a little red bird shows up early in the illustrations as the story moves from scene to scene. At the end of the story, the little red bird is seen flying off. The red bird is not in the text. It is pure creation on the part of the illustrators. It certainly does not detract from the story, but for small children it is an element of visual consistency tying the ebb and flow of the tale together, something they can expect and look for as each page is turned.



Not necessarily apparent in these first two books, but striking over the body of their work, is the versatility of the Dillons. In these two books, you have a visual sense of West Africa. Later, when they illustrated Katherine Paterson's The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, they adopted a style in the tradition of Japanese and Chinese illustrations. This stylistic versatility is perhaps best exhibited in their 1998 work, To Everything There is a Season, in which the verses from Ecclesiastes are illustrated in the styles of different peoples from around the world and across the ages. Each verse is illustrated in a particular style: Ancient Egyptian, Inuit, Medieval German, Ancient Central American, etc. It is a stunning accomplishment.



Across their career, the Dillons have gravitated towards a number of genres. A large body of their work is oriented towards folktales and legends from many lands The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks, Between Heaven and Earth, etc.) but particularly from Africa (Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, Who's in Rabbit's House?, etc.). Poetry (Honey, I Love, To Every Thing There Is a Season), the arts (Aida, Rap a Tap Tap, and Jazz on a Saturday Night), retellings of traditional folktales in an African-American tradition (The Girl Who Spun Gold, Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales) as well as stories of the African American experience (Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom, The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, and The Hundred Penny Box ) are all well represented themes.



Through their work, the Dillons have continued to explore the use of different media, different materials and different styles. A few weeks ago we did a Featured Author essay on Jane Yolen and commented that one of the challenges in recommending her work is that she is so talented in adopting different fashions of storytelling and styles of writing, that there is really no single Jane Yolen style. With most authors, once you have read a book or two of theirs, you know whether you will like their others. With Yolen, you can't anticipate that, simply because of her virtuosity. The same is true of the Dillons. Their work is uniformly of high quality but very variable in style. You will find traditional styles (such as woodblocks), styles using all sorts of modern techniques, simple illustrations, realistic illustrations, and everything in between. You might like one style more than another but you can recognize that whatever style it is in, it is done well.



For African-American parents wishing their children to see African-American protagonists in a positive light, the Dillons' work is a rich seam to mine. Correspondingly, others that might wish their children to see African American themes dealt with in a positive fashion without the polemical overlays that are too common otherwise, will find solace in the Dillons work. In other words, these are stories well told and well illustrated that only happen to be related to the African American experience.



It is worth noting something unusual about the work of the Dillons. At Through the Magic Door, when evaluating books, we go beyond our own judgment and always look at four other viewpoints 1) how often do librarians recommend the book (a measure of popularity), 2) how many awards has the book won, 3) how frequently is the book cited (positively) in children's literature academia, and 4) how often is the book cited by knowledgeable readers. Most books show up in one category or another, some crossover between a couple of categories. The more common circumstance, though, is that if a book is popular, it often is not critically acclaimed. If it is appreciated by the reading community, it won't show up in the popularity lists or the prize lists.



The Dillons are unusual in that a number of their books show up across the board. They are recommended by librarians, are award winners, are recognized in academia and are appreciated by enthusiastic readers. Among their books falling into this select group of universally appreciated books are Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, The People Could Fly, The Hundred Penny Box, and Ashanti to Zulu. Let us know which of their books you enjoy most.





Picture Books































































































Why Mosquitoes Buzz in Peoples Ears by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Diane and Leo Dillon Recommended


Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Recommended


Switch on the Night by Ray Bradbury and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Recommended


To Every Thing There Is a Season illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Recommended


The Hundred-penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Who's in Rabbit's House? by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Honey, I Love, and Other Love Poems by Eloise Greenfield and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Aida by Leontyne Price and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks by Katherine Paterson and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


The Girl Who Spun Gold by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Dream by Susan V. Bosak and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Where Have You Been? by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Mansa Musa by Khephra Burns and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Jazz on a Saturday Night written and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Rap a Tap Tap written and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested





Independent Reader






























20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Recommended


The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Many Thousand Gone by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested


Between Heaven and Earth by Norman Howard and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon Suggested





Adult










Mommy Mantras by Bethany E. Casarjian and Diane Dillon Possible





Leo and Diane Dillons' Bibliography


Hakon of Rogen's Saga written by Erik C. Haugaard and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1963

A Slave's Tale written by Erik C. Haugaard and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1965

African Kingdoms written by Basil Davidson and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1966

Claymore and Kilt: Tales of Scottish Kings and Castles written by Sorche Nic Leodhas and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1967

Shamrock and Spear: Tales and Legends from Ireland written by F. M. Pilkington and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1968

The Rider and His Horse written by Erik C. Haugaard and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1968

Dark Venture written by Audrey W. Beyer and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1968

Why Heimdall Blew His Horn: Tale of the Norse Gods written by Frederick Laing and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1969

The Ring in the Prairie: A Shawnee Legend written by John Bierhorst and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1970

Gassire's Lute: A West African Epic written by Alta Jablow and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1971

The Search written by Alma Murray and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1971

The Untold Tale written by Erik C. Haugaard and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1971

Behind the Back of the Mountain: Black Folktales from Southern Africa written by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1973

Burning Star written by Eth Clifford and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1974

Songs and Stories from Uganda written by W. Moses Serwadda and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1974

The Third Gift written by Jan Carew and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1974

Whirlwind Is a Ghost Dancing written by Natalie Belting and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1974

Song of the Boat written by Lorenz Graham and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1975

Dangerous Visions written by Harlan Ellison and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1975

The Hundred Penny Box written by Sharon Bell Mathis and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1975

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale written by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1975

Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions written by Margaret W. Musgrove and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1976

Who's in Rabbit's House?: A Masai Tale written by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1977

Honey, I Love: And Other Love Poems written by Eloise Greenfield and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1978

Tales from Scandinavia written by Frederick Laing and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1979

Two Pairs of Shoes written by P. L. Travers and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1980

Children of the Sun written by J. Carew and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1980

Listen Children: An Anthology of Black Literature written by Dorothy S. Strickland and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1982

Brother to the Wind written by Mildred Pitts Walter and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1985

The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales written by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1985

All in a Day written by Mitsumasa Anno and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1986

Once upon a Time: Celebrating the Magic of Children's Books in Honor of the Twentieth Anniversary of Reading Is Fundamental written by RIF and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1986

The Porcelain Cat written by Michael P. Hearn and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1987

The Color Wizard: Level 1 written by Barbara A. Brenner and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1989

Moses' Ark: Stories from the Bible written by Alice Bach and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1989

Aida: A Picture Book for All Ages written by Leontyne Price and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1990

The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks written by Katherine Paterson and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1990

Miriam's Well: Stories about Women in the Bible written by Alice Bach and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1991

The Race of the Golden Apples written by Claire Martin and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1991

Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch written by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1991

Northern Lullaby written by Nancy White Carlstrom and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1992

The Sorcerer's Apprentice written by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1993

Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom written by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1993

Switch on the Night written by Ray Bradbury and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1993

What Am I?: Looking through Shapes at Apples and Grapes written by N.N. Charles and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1994

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales written by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1995

On the Wings of Peace: Writers and Illustrators Speak out for Peace in Memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki written by Various and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1995

The Girl Who Dreamed Only Geese and Other Tales of the Far North written by Howard Norman and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1997

To Every Thing There Is a Season: Verses from Ecclesiastes written by Anonymous and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 1998

The Girl Who Spun Gold written by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2000

Two Little Trains written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2001

Dream written by Susan Bosak and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2004

Where Have You Been? written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2004

Mansa Musa written by Khephra Burns and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2001

Mommy Mantras written by Bethany E. Casarjian and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2006

Jazz on a Saturday Night written by Leo Dillon and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2007

Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose written by Leo & Diane Dillon and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2007

Rap a Tap Tap written by Leo & Diane Dillon and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2002

Between Heaven and Earth written by Norman Howard and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2004

Earth Mother written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2005

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea written by Jules Verne and illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon 2000



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