Jeannie Baker (1950-) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1950, in England; Education: Attended Croydon College of Art, 1967-69; Brighton College of Art, B.S. (with honors), 1979. Politics: "Left."
Freelance collage artist, filmmaker, and illustrator, 1972–. Exhibitions: Exhibitor at group shows, including Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, 1974, 1975; Portal Gallery, London, 1975; Crafts Council of Australia Gallery, Sydney, 1977-79; Hogarth Gallery, Sydney, 1978; Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney, 1979; and Interiors State Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1981. Exhibitor at one-woman shows at Brettenham House, Waterloo Bridge, London, 1975; Gallery One, Hobart, Australia, 1977; Bonython Gallery, Adelaide, Australia, 1980; Crafts Council of Australia Gallery, Sydney, 1980; Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, New South Wales, 1980. Work represented in permanent collections of Australian National Gallery; State Gallery of Queensland, and Droomkeen Museum of Children's Literature, Riddall, Victoria, Australia.
Visual arts grants, Australia Council, 1977-78, 1978-79; commended picture book of the year, Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA), 1985, for Home in the Sky; Boston Globe Picture Book honor, CBCA Picture Book honour, Earthworm Award from Reading Magic Award, and Picture Book award from Young Australian Best Book, all 1988, and International Board on Books for Young People illustration/Australia category award, and primary category award from KOALA, both 1990, all for Where the Forest Meets the Sea; CBCA Picture Book award, and Young Australian Best Book designation, both 1992, both for Window.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED; FOR CHILDREN
Grandfather, Dutton (New York, NY), 1977, revised edition, 1980.
Grandmother, Dutton (New York, NY), 1978, revised edition, 1980.
Millicent, Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.
One Hungry Spider, Deutsch (London, England), 1982.
Home in the Sky, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.
Where the Forest Meets the Sea, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.
Window, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.
The Story of Rosy Dock, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.
The Hidden Forest, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.
Home, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2004.
Belonging, Walker Books (Sydney, Australia), 2004.
Elaine Moss, Polar (picture book), Deutsch (London, England), 1975, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.
Also contributor of illustrations to periodicals, including New Scientist, Nova, Observer, and London Times.
The Story of Rosy Dock was adapted as a short film.
Australian-based artist and illustrator Jeannie Baker has gained international attention through a unique style she calls "relief collage." As she once told Something about the Author (SATA), this method of illustration "is very painstaking and detailed. I use such natural materials as stone, veneer, paint peeled from old doors and window-sills, and plaster from old walls. I collect grass and leaves. For hair on my characters I use real hair. If they are to wear woolen jumpers, I knit them myself." Baker explained that when her relief collages are "photographed for reproduction, shadows will be cast, often in strange places, giving the reproduction a slightly three-dimensional effect."
Baker is best known for creating books with ecological themes, such as Where the Forest Meets the Sea and Window, and she has received praise for her ability to present powerful messages about the environment with conviction as well as subtlety. Horn Book critic Mary M. Burns called Baker's picture book Where the Forest Meets the Sea an "uncanny and unforgettable experience" that "represents a truly notable achievement in the picture-book genre, breaking new ground, adding new dimensions."
Born in England, where she graduated from art school in 1979, Baker began her illustration career with Polar, a story written by Elaine Moss about a tobogganing teddy. She then began to write and illustrate her own picture books. In her first solo work, Grandfather, Baker portrays a girl sitting on her grandfather's lap. The girl's hair looks real, and the textures of her sweater and skirt and her grandfather's tweed cap stand out. In the companion volume, Grandmother, Baker presents a girl visiting the home of her grandmother, a place described by a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer as "cozy [and] cluttered." As Baker explained, "eccentrics (especially old people)" fascinate her, and she is inspired by "wild overgrown places and houses and textures—the crumbling erosion of decay."
Home in the Sky reflects its creator's love of the wild places and textures that can be found in an urban setting as it follows a white homing pigeon in its flight over Manhattan. Kristi Thomas Beavin remarked in School Library Journal that Baker's "busy city-scape" creates "a visually pleasing and intriguing jumble." Horn Book contributor Gertrude Herman wrote that Baker's collage illustrations create vivid images of the bustling city, and her "textured surfaces, stretched tightly, pulsate with imagery and resonate with life." A Junior Bookshelf critic called Home in the Sky the work of a "poet of the city streets."
In Where the Forest Meets the Sea a boy tells how he travels on a boat named Time Machine through a reef with his father to get to an ancient rain forest, and Baker brings this story to life using paper, clay, paint, leaves, and other natural materials. According to Ilene Cooper in a Booklist review, the collages "are masterworks of both technical skill and artistic endeavor." School Library Journal critic Judith Gloyer also enjoyed the illustrations, calling Baker's book a "visual treat" that "moves from beautiful sandy beaches inland along a creek into the densely tangled primordial forest." During his boat trip through the reef the boy imagines the dinosaurs, animals, and even aboriginal children he might have seen in those long-ago times, and he wonders about the forest's future. These imaginings are brought to life in Baker's illustrations, and the author also includes a note and map on the Daintree Wilderness, in North Queensland, Australia, in which the story is set.
Like Where the Forest Meets the Sea, the wordless picture book Window carries a message about the environment. The book focuses on one man and a window over the course of twenty years. When the man is just a baby in his mother's arms, the view outside is relatively pristine Australian bush, but as he grows older an urban world replaces the natural one. "Development becomes suburb, then city, complete with billboards, high-rises, noise pollution, litter, and overpopulation," related Susan Scheps in a review for School Library Journal. As a critic for Kirkus Reviews pointed out, the boy begins to litter and trap "creatures," and his toys begin to include "plastic dinosaurs" and "rockets." Finally, when the man has his own house in the country, he shows his infant child the view out another window where the countryside is already being prepared for development. Ann A. Flowers praised the work in Horn Book, asserting that it effectively "presents an artistically unique examination of a pressing world-wide problem."
Development is not the only threat to the environment, as Baker shows in her picture book The Story of Rosy Dock. Rosy dock is a plant with attractive red seedpods, and when Europeans settled in Australia, they included the plant along with those they brought from the old country. In only a century, rosy dock had spread throughout the desert outback region, where the cycle of droughts and floods did not kill it. Now it threatens to choke out native plants and disrupt the ecosystem of the region. Using actual plant materials in her collage illustrations, Baker's work on The Story of Rosy Dock was described by Booklist contributor Kay Weisman as "particularly effective." On her Web site Baker explained how she is able to incorporate plant material in her artwork: "I bathe the vegetation in a mixture of special chemicals for about a week. These chemicals preserve the vegetation and remove all the juices in the vegetation, which would in time destroy it. Then I finely spray the vegetation with paint to give it a permanent colour, before sticking onto my collages."
Baker moves under water in The Hidden Forest, as Ben, her young protagonist, submerges to go in search of a lost fishing trap and discovers an amazing new world. Focusing on the kelp forests that grow off the coast of Tasmania, Baker's collages include clay, seaweed, sand, sponges, and other materials, all of which combine to form "vibrantly colorful and amazingly detailed collages," according to School Library Journal contributor Marian Drabkin. In Horn Book, a reviewer noted that the book's "overt conservation message … will resonate with readers" of The Hidden Forest and praised Baker for including a brief explanation about kelp forests and their endangerment.
As she wrote in the author's note in Window, Baker hopes to help children understand how people change the environment. She once told SATA: "I am inspired by my surroundings, and I feel the occasional need for personal new adventures into my surroundings to nurture my creative growth."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Baker, Jeannie, Where the Forest Meets the Sea, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.
Booklist, June 15, 1988, Ilene Cooper, review of Where the Forest Meets the Sea, p. 1733; April 2, 2995, Kay Weisman, review of The Story of Rosy Dock, p. 1394; September 1, 2000, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Hidden Forest, p. 112.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1979, review of Grandmother; January, 1983, review of One Hungry Spider.
Entertainment Weekly, June 18, 1993, Leonard S. Marcus, review of Home in the Sky, p. 70.
Horn Book, March, 1985, Gertrude Herman, "A Picture Is Worth Several Hundred Words," p. 211; July-August, 1988, Mary M., Burns, review of Where the Forest Meets the Sea, pp. 475-476; May, 1991, Ann A. Flowers, review of Window, pp. 312-313; July, 2000, review of The Hidden Forest, p. 431.
Junior Bookshelf, February, 1985, review of Home in the Sky, p. 10; October, 1988, review of One Hungry Spider, p. 227.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1991, review of Window, p. 315.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 25, 1991, p. 9.
New York Times Book Review, December 30, 1984, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, May 11, 1990, review of Polar, p. 258; April 5, 1991, review of Window, p. 143; April 17, 1995, review of The Story of Rosy Dock, p. 59.
School Library Journal, January, 1985, Kristi Thomas Beavin, review of Home in the Sky, pp. 62-63; June-July, 1988, Judith Gloyer, review of Where the Forest Meets the Sea, p. 83; March, 1991, Susan Scheps, review of Window, p. 166; May, 1995, p. 98; May, 2000, Marian Drabkin, review of The Hidden Forest, p. 130.
Vogue Living, June, 1980.
Jeannie Baker Web site, http://www.jeanniebaker.com/ (December 2, 2004).*