9 minute read

Taylor Morrison (1971-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1971, in Topeka, KS; Education: Rhode Island School of Design, M.F.A. Religion: "Atheist." Hobbies and other interests: Karate.


Office—464 Pratt St. Extension, Box 10, Meriden, CT 06450.


Author and illustrator.


(Self-illustrated) Antonio's Apprenticeship: Painting a Fresco in Renaissance Italy, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1996.

(Self-illustrated) The Neptune Fountain: A Young Sculptor in Renaissance Italy, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1997.

Cheetah, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

Civil War Artist, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.

The Great Unknown, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.

The Buffalo Nickel, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.

The Coast Mappers, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of articles and illustrations to Cricket.


Author and illustrator Taylor Morrison creates books that bring history, both human and natural, to life for a picture-book audience. His first title, Antonio's Apprenticeship: Painting a Fresco in Renaissance Italy, is a fictional story about a young man who has been apprenticed to his uncle, a painter in Florence, Italy, in the fifteenth century. As the two work together to complete a series of frescoes for a Florentine chapel, Antonio and the reader learn just how complicated the process of making a fresco can be. Before Antonio and his uncle can start painting, the boy must collect willow branches to burn into charcoal and hog bristles to turn into brushes, grind pigments for the paint, and find models to pose for their sketches. Such "vibrantly reported details," as a Publishers Weekly contributor described them, "lend irresistible immediacy to a seminal period in art history." Although some critics found Antonio's Apprenticeship somewhat overly didactic, Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan declared it "an unusual and visually rewarding introduction to the period."

Morrison's The Neptune Fountain: The Apprenticeship of a Renaissance Sculptor is a similarly structured tale, this time focusing on the art of marble sculpture. The apprentice in The Neptune Fountain is Marco, the city is Rome, and the time period is the 1600s, but once again Morrison lays out step by step all of the preparatory work the apprentice and his master must undertake before they even lift their chisels. Three years after they begin, they finally complete the fountain. Morrison's illustrations for The Neptune Fountain are "vibrant," according to an Emergency Librarian contributor, and the book "is an entertaining and informative addition to stories of great artists."

Morrison's books on natural history include Cheetah and The Great Unknown. The former book follows Duma, a mother cheetah, and her three cubs through a typical day in their native habitat, an African desert. A wild cheetah's life is active and dangerous, and Booklist reviewer April Judge thought that Cheetah does an admirable job of capturing this: the book "reads like a fast-paced adventure story," she wrote, and Morrison's "rich-in-color illustrations … are action-packed." The Great Unknown is set on the other side of the world, in upstate New York, where a fossilized mastodon skeleton was found in 1799. The skeleton was acquired by Charles Willson Peale, a Philadelphia-based museum owner who supervised its excavation and assembly and then put it on display. Both Booklist critic Carolyn Phelan and School Library Journal reviewer Margaret Bush praised Morrison's paintings for The Great Unknown, Phelan deeming them "well-composed," while Bush noted that several of the "intriguing scenes [are] rendered in dark tones suggesting a long-ago time."

Civil War Artist is a fictionalized tale about a newspaper "photojournalist" from the days when newspapers ran, not photographs, but engravings based on the sketches of on-location artists. The book's protagonist, William Forbes, travels with photographer Mathew Brady and other historical figures as they chronicle the U.S. Civil War in pictures. Forbes experiences some of the dangers of war, including nearly being killed by Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Bull Run, but, as a Publishers Weekly critic noted, "the main character isn't so much the eponymous artist as the process of pictorial reporting." It takes almost a month for Forbes's sketches to appear in the newspaper back home after he witnesses an event: after he completes the sketch, it must make the long, slow trip to the newspaper offices by horseback. Then it takes a team of engravers several days to transfer the sketch to a wooden block and carve the image into it. The carved image is then used to make a copperplate, which can be set in a printing press and used to print Forbes's sketch on newsprint. In Civil War Artist, Ken Marantz explained in School Arts, this entire process is "presented lucidly in succinct text and large clearly defined paintings."

The Buffalo Nickel is a biography of James Earle Fraser, the artist who created the famous American "buffalo nickel" depicting one of the large animals on the back and a Native American chief on the front. Fraser was raised in the Dakota Territory at the end of the nineteenth century, and he played with Native American children and saw buffalos first-hand. He later moved to Paris and New York City to study his art, but he never forgot those childhood experiences. They were the inspiration for two of his most famous works of art: "The End of the Trail," a widely reproduced sculpture of an exhausted Native American slumped on his horse, and the buffalo nickel. In the book Morrison also includes a detailed, illustrated technical explanation of how coins are minted, but it is his retelling of Fraser's life story and his illustrations that have been most praised by critics. Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan wrote that The Buffalo Nickel "offers intriguing glimpses of America's past" and deemed the book "well researched and colorfully illustrated," while Mary Elam commented in Library Journal: "Morrison displays his talents in the brushstrokes of sweeping, cloud-filled traditional landscapes and faithful representations of Fraser's work."

The Coast Mappers tells the story of George Davidson, who, with his crew from the U.S. Coast Survey office, mapped the coast of California in the 1850s. This was dangerous work, involving traveling among the unfriendly Makah and Nootka tribes of Native Americans and sailing in treacherous, not-yet-charted waters along the state's rocky coastline. As in his earlier books, Morrison includes a wealth of technical and historical information in his story, both about daily life in gold-rush-crazed, still sparsely settled California and about the science of cartography, or map making. He "creat[es] a palpable sense of time and place," wrote School Library Journal contributor Joy Fleishhacker, the reviewer going on to note that "cartographic methods are clearly explained through both the carefully researched text and the precise illustrations." Professional surveyor Pat Toscano, who reviewed The Coast Mappers for American Surveyor magazine, was particularly happy to see a book about his field for children—and adults—who are unfamiliar with it. "If you have ever struggled to explain traversing, control surveys and field mapping to people without mathematical training, then you will be glad to have this book as a sort of training aide," Toscano wrote, continuing, "Morrison's images that illustrate latitude and longitude are fabulous."

Morrison told Something about the Author: "My parents said that one of the first things I ever did was draw. Since childhood I have been drawing all the time. I'm not sure why I do it, but I can't stop. I went to art school to try to find a way to make a living drawing pictures. I loved painting and learned from some excellent teachers. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that the modern art world is very political and has no rules for the art of painting at all. Making a living at it seemed to be very unrealistic. At school there were some book illustrators who made a good living from their art. This seemed to be an ideal career.

"I went to these teachers constantly and asked for their criticism of my work. They gave me honest, straightforward criticism. This was refreshing, because the most popular teachers at art school said whatever you did was great, or they used ambiguous modern art jargon. This became the motivation for my first book, Antonio's Apprenticeship. I was fed up with the impractical and extremely expensive art education I was receiving. This motivated me to study how some of the greatest artists of all time trained for their craft. Specifically, I wanted to know about the Italian Renaissance artists. In art history lectures the professors called them 'dead white males,' and this popular prejudice spurred me further. It became clear that these Renaissance artists were extremely disciplined. Artists started at a young age and worked very long days. By working with a master all day, the apprentices learned the craft in depth, and also learned how to run a business. Most art school lecture courses do not teach this today. After an apprenticeship, an artist could stay with the master, or he would have the skills to start a new shop. After graduating from art school, many students of painting and illustration I knew did not work at the craft they were supposed to be trained to do.

"My first book is about the training of a fresco painter, and the second is about the training of a marble sculptor. For research, I went to Italy and met an Italian sculptor named Luigi Corsanini, who was very helpful.

"In college I majored in animation and illustration. During my senior year, the Rhode Island Zoo added two cheetahs to its exhibit. I went to the zoo about three times a week and drew the animals. I studied their bodies and the way they moved, and then I made a four-minute animated movie about a hunting cheetah. After graduation, I thought that an animated book based on the film would be a good idea. I went to several zoos to draw the animals, and I spent some time at Wildlife Safari. This is a huge nature reserve with about twenty beautiful cheetahs. The people who worked there were very generous and helpful with my research.

"I am also researching how sculptors of coins for the U.S. Mint do their art. The basic objective of all my books is to make something that is interesting, educational, and beautiful."

Biographical and Critical Sources


American Surveyor, July-August, 2004, Pat Toscano, review of The Coast Mappers.

Booklist, April 15, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Antonio's Apprenticeship: Painting a Fresco in Renaissance Italy, p. 1437; June 1, 1997, Linda Perkins, review of The Neptune Fountain: The Apprenticeship of a Renaissance Sculptor, p. 1704; May 15, 1998, April Judge, review of Cheetah, p. 1628; June 1, 1998, April Judge, review of Cheetah, p. 1772; May 15, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Buffalo Nickel, p. 1598.

Emergency Librarian, November-December, 1997, review of The Neptune Fountain, p. 60.

Five Owls, May-June, 1996, pp. 113-114.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1996, p. 139.

Publishers Weekly, January 22, 1996, review of Antonio's Apprenticeship, p. 73; May 3, 1999, review of Civil War Artist, p. 76.

School Arts, October, 1996, Ken Marantz, review of Antonio's Apprenticeship, p. 50; December, 1999, Ken Marantz, review of Civil War Artist, p. 48.

School Library Journal, May, 1996, p. 114; May, 2001, Margaret Bush, review of The Great Unknown, p. 145; April, 2002, Mary Elam, review of The Buffalo Nickel, p. 138; May, 2004, Joy Fleishhacker, review of The Coast Mappers, p. 172; October, 2004, review of The Coast Mappers, p. 34.


Houghton Mifflin Web site, http://www.www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (April 2, 2005).

Texas Library Association Web site, http://www.txla.org/ (April 2, 2005), "Texas Bluebonnet Award: 2003-2004 Nominees: The Buffalo Nickel. "*

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