Wendell G. Minor (1944-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1944, in Aurora, IL; maiden name, Sebby) Minor; Education: Ringling School of Art and Design, graduated, 1966. Hobbies and other interests: Painting outdoors, bird watching, photography, hiking, travel.
Artist and illustrator. School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, member of faculty, 1975–86; freelance author/illustrator, beginning 1995. Member of advisory council, Connecticut Center for the Book, Hartford, CT. Lecturer to college and universities in United States. Exhibitions: New York Art Directors Club Exhibition, NY, 1992; Mystic Maritime Gallery, Mystic, CT, 1992–95; Society of Illustrators National Exhibition, 1998; Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Art Institute of Chicago; Boston Public Library; Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT, and Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA. Touring retrospective of Minor's work sponsored by Center for Children's Illustration, 2006–08. Work included in permanent collections at Illinois State Museum, Muskegon Museum of Art, Mattatuck Museum, Arizona Historical Society, NASA, Library of Congress, Museum of American Illustration, New Britain (CT) Museum of American Art, U.S. Coast Guard, Nor-man Rockwell Museum, Eric Carle Museum of Picture-Book Art, and Mazza Collection, Findlay University.
Society of Illustrators (president, 1989–91; member of Hall of Fame committee), Connecticut Center for the Book (advisory council), Norman Rockwell Museum (trustee), Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, New Britain Museum of Art (Low illustration committee), Steep Rock Association (trustee).
Notable Children's Trade Books in Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)/Children's Book Council (CBC), 1988, for Mojave, 1989, for Heartland, 1991, for Sierra, 1992, for The Seashore Book; John and Patricia Beatty Award, California Library Association, and Teachers' Choice designation, International Reading Association, both 1992, both for Sierra; Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children, NCSS/CBC, 1991, for Sierra, and 1991, for The Seashore Book; Merit award, New York Art Directors Club, 1993, for Heartland; Award of Excellence, Communication Arts, 1993, for illustrations from Red Fox Running; Notable Book designation, Smithsonian, 1995, and Silver Honor award, Parents Choice Foundation, and NCSS Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, both 1996, all for Everglades; Smithsonian's Notable Books for Children award and NCSS Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, both 1998, both for Grand Canyon; Certificate of Merit, Bookbuilders West Book Show, 1998, for Grassroots; NCTE Notable Children's Books in the English Language Arts and Kansas State Reading Circle top ten citation, both 2000, both for Snow Bear; Notable Children's Trade Books in the Field of Social Sciences, 2001, for Abe Lincoln Remembers; NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children, and Best Illustrated Children's Picture Book designation, Connecticut Center for the Book, both 2004, both for Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream; Noteworthy Book citation, Capitol Choices, Parents' Choice Award, John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers inclusion, and NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children designation, all 2003, all for Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson; Best Book Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, 2004, for Fire Storm; honorary D.H.L. from Aurora University, 2004; over two hundred other awards and honors.
(With wife, Florence Minor) Art for the Written Word: Twenty-five Years of Book Cover Art, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.
Grand Canyon: Exploring a Natural Wonder, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Pumpkin Heads!, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2000.
(With Florence Minor) Christmas Tree!, Katherine Tegen Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Yankee Doodle America: The Spirit of 1776 from A to Z, Putnam (New York, NY), 2006.
Jane Goodsell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Crowell (New York, NY), 1970.
Diane Siebert, Mojave, Crowell (New York, NY), 1988.
Diane Siebert, Heartland, Crowell (New York, NY), 1989.
Diane Siebert, Sierra, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Charlotte Zolotow, The Seashore Book, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Eve Bunting, Red Fox Running, Clarion (New York, NY), 1993.
Jean Craighead George, The Moon of the Owls, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1993.
Jean Craighead George, Julie, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
Jean Craighead George, Everglades, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Jean Craighead George, Arctic Son, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.
Jean Craighead George, Julie's Wolf Pack, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Ann Turner, Shaker Hearts, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Carl Sandburg, Grassroots (poetry), Browndeer Press (San Diego, CA), 1998.
Pat Brisson, Sky Memories, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1999.
Jean Craighead George, Morning, Noon, and Night, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Jean Craighead George, Snow Bear, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.
Alice Schertle, A Lucky Thing (poems), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1999.
Jack London, The Call of the Wild, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Ann Turner, Abe Lincoln Remembers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Eve Bunting, We Were There, Clarion (New York, NY), 2001.
Jack Schaefer, Shane, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
Tony Johnston, Cat, What Is That?, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Jean Craighead George, Lonesome George, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Jean Craighead George, Cliff Hanger, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Jean Craighead George, Fire Storm, Katherine Tegen Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Amy Ehrlich, Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2003.
Robert Burleigh, Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
Katharine Lee Bates, America the Beautiful, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.
Michael Dennis Browne, Give Her the River: A Father's Wish for His Daughter, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.
Jean Craighead George, Snowboard Twist, Katherine Tegen Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Buzz Aldrin, Reaching for the Moon, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
Amy Ehrlich, Willa: The Story of Willa Cather, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2006.
Jean Craighead George, Luck, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Illustrator of book covers; contributor of artwork to "Scenic America" postcard stamp series, U.S. Postal Service; contributed monthly illustrations to novel section, Good Housekeeping. Illustrations have appeared in periodicals, including Idea, Print, American Artist, Southwest Art, Wildlife Art, and Graphic Design, as well as in anthologies.
Contributor to anthologies, including The Fantastic Vision of Science Fiction Art, The Very Best of Children's Book Illustration, Speak! Children's Book Illustrators Brag about Their Dogs, Purr! Children's Book Illustrators Brag about Their Cats, Art for Survival: The Illustrator and the Environment, Contemporary Western Artists, Two Hundred Years of American Illustration, Tikvah, On the Wings of Peace, and The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators. Contributor to magazines, including Communication Arts, Idea (of Japan), Print, American Artist, Southwest Art, Wildlife Art, Graphic Design: USA, U.S. Airways Attache, and Book Links.
Work in Progress
Illustrations for Margaret Wise Brown's Nibble, Nibble, for HarperCollins, 2007.
Even people who do not read picture books or visit art galleries are likely to have encountered the work of artist and illustrator Wendell G. Minor. In addition to providing the illustrations to works by some of the most noted children's book authors, including Jean Craighead George and Alice Schertle, Minor has created cover art for such bestsellers as historian David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Truman, Pat Conroy's novel Beach Music, and LaVyrle Spencer's Small Town Girl. Commissioned by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) to record the lift-off of the space shuttle Discovery, Minor has also created several postcard stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. His style, which has been lauded for its classic elements, graces books such as Red Fox Running, Julie, and a collection of poetry by Carl Sandburg titled Grassroots, as well as Minor's own work, Grand Canyon.
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Born in Aurora, Illinois, in 1944, Minor knew he was going to be an artist by the time he hit the fourth grade, and he translated his interest in U.S. history and nature into his drawings. The encouragement he received from parents, friends, and teachers fueled his confidence and made him more determined than ever to develop his natural talent enough to be able to devote his adult years to art. Although his mother was supportive of his budding talent, his father—a sportsman from whom Minor inherited a love of the outdoors—was concerned that his son would find it difficult to make a living. However, Minor also had a strong work ethic; after graduating from high school he got a job at a local slaughter house to save up for college. A class in mechanical drawing at a nearby community college satisfied his need to feel he was making strides toward his eventual career, and it also taught him some useful technical skills. Eventually, a combination of scholarship money and savings from summer jobs brought him to Sarasota, Florida's Ringling School of Art and Design, and he graduated in 1966.
In 1968 Minor began working as an illustrator for the studio of Paul Bacon, where he got his first taste of book production by illustrating a full-color book cover. Two years later, in 1970, he started working independently, taking a studio in New York's Greenwich Vil-lage. Even with his professional training and two years of experience, Minor needed commissions of his own in order to remain an independent artist. Inspired by such professional artists as Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Thomas Moran, and Norman Rockwell—the last against whose work Minor's own efforts have often been favorably compared—he developed his own style, assembled a portfolio, and went in search of paying clients. Not unexpectedly, his search took him to publishing houses, and he was able to get his first illustration job working on a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt for Crowell. Contracts to create book covers followed, and Minor, confident that he would now be able to pay the rent on his studio, felt like a budding success.
In 1988 Minor decided to make the transition from book jacket illustration to children's book illustration, believing that children's books allow artists the greatest creative freedom. He enjoyed two aspects of the work in particular: the ability to work with the author in envisioning and refining the story, and passing along his beliefs and passions to the next generation. A move to rural Connecticut also proved beneficial, as the influences of nature began to be seen more and more within his works. Minor's obvious love for the natural world is especially noted in books like 1993's Red Fox Running, which was written by Eve Bunting, and the wealth of nature centers and open spaces north of New York City have proved to be invaluable in studying foxes and other animals and their habitats.
For Minor's Grand Canyon: Exploring a Natural Wonder the author/illustrator took the same path as many other artists who have explored America's wild places and recorded their visual and emotional impressions. On a twelve-day excursion in May of 1997, he recorded the National Park in both watercolor paintings and text. Grand Canyon "enables youngsters to see a much-photographed natural wonder through the admiring, philosophical mind and the swift, careful fingers of an artist," comments School Library Journal contributor Patricia Manning in praise of the work, while a Kirkus reviewer noted that Minor's observations on nature, sketches, and paintings "will delight young armchair travelers and naturalists." Minor continues to illustrate his own writings as well, occasionally collaborating with his wife. His solo effort Pumpkin Heads! is a Halloween story about picking a pumpkin and making a jack-o'-lantern. Doris Gebel of School Library Journal commented on the combination of "simple text with lush, rich paintings."
Among all the books Minor has illustrated, one in particular harkens back to his childhood. "Jack London was my favorite," he once recalled to SATA of the many books a special sixth grade teacher introduced him to during his middle-school years. "I will never forget The Call of the Wild. Mr. Gilkey's deep voice made the words come alive with vivid pictures of the far North. It was at that moment that my visual world and reading came together. In retrospect, it was that particular expe-rience that forged my future as an illustrator of books!" In 1999 a new edition of London's classic novel was published by Scribners; it bears Minor's expertly detailed paintings. Dedicating this work to the memory of Mr. Gilkey, Minor added that with this project, "Life has come full circle.
Minor credits his Midwest upbringing and his parents with being a major influence upon his career. "I was very fortunate to have grown up in the Midwest in the 1950s and experience the rural landscape near my hometown of Aurora, Illinois. My mother and father both grew up on farms, and their sensibilities were well-rooted in the Illinois soil. They taught me to appreciate the simple joys of everyday life: the sweet smell of a freshly plowed field after a rainstorm; tending the large bird house for a purple martin colony that would return faithfully to our backyard every spring; the smell of burning leaves in autumn and the celebration of harvest time at the county fair. These images are indelibly etched in my memory forever. It has taken me a lifetime to realize how much those early experiences in nature have defined my identity as a mature artist."
In 1986 Minor was given a copy of the poem "Mojave," by author Diane Siebert. "I remember that day very well," he recalled to SATA, "and knew immediately that I wanted to paint pictures for Diane's visually rich and beautifully descriptive text. We clearly shared a love of nature and passion for a sense of place. From that day forward I knew that my mission as an artist was to communicate to future generations of children that love of nature and sense of place. My interest in reading, natural history, science, landscape painting, and America would be brought together in one place to create children's picture books celebrating all manner of natural environments from every corner of our great land." From his studio in Washington, Connecticut, he visits groups of students to encourage them to pursue their creative outlets. Recalling his father's concern over his own preoccupation with art as "frivolous," Minor told New York Times contributor Jackie Fitzpatrick, "Kids need as much encouragement in the creative arts as they can get."
On his home page, Minor explained that he begins his art projects "when he gets an idea or insight that he wants to create and with his editor, he finds an author who shares his sensibilities and interest in a particular subject." This strategy has led Minor to work with many authors on picture books. A poem by Alice Schertle provides the text for A Lucky Thing, in which a girl talks about writing and nature. According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, the pictures "neatly combine fidelity to nature with emblems of the art of writing." Pat Brisson's prose is the text for Sky Memories, in which Minor's "dramatic watercolors focus on the sky memories" as opposed to other subtexts in the story, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Cat, What Is That? features poetry about cats accompanied by Minor's illustrations. "Minor's cats are irresistible," praised a contributor to Publishers Weekly, who considered the book to be "as stylish and sleek as cats themselves." Joy Fleishhacker, writing for School Library Journal, considered the collaboration "a verbal and visual feast," while Booklist contributor John Peters noted, young readers "will have trouble resisting the urge to stroke the pictures." Minor has also selected the text of poetry by writers such as Katharine Lee Bates to bring poetry from earlier times to a young audience. "This pictoral salute … is a good way to introduce young listeners to Bates's 19th-century poem," noted Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan in her School Library Journal review.
Minor has also provided art for several biographies, several of early environmentalists. For a biography of President Lincoln by Ann Turner, titled Abe Lincoln Remembers, Minor provided "stately, lifelike paintings," which, with the text, "shape an insightful portrait of this leader," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. With the text taking the form of poetry, Minor's "Vivid full-page illustrations provide counterpoint to islands of verse," Mary Ann Carcich noted in her School Library Journal review. In Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream, Minor's art accompanies art by the famous Audubon, who tried to capture a disappearing world with his paint brush. "Minor breathtakingly captures a landscape with a blue heron in the marsh as easily as a close-up of a dying dove," praised a Publishers Weekly contributor. Commenting on the two artists' work, a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted, "The two are quite compatible in this feast for bird lovers." Julie Cummins, in her Booklist review noted that Minor's "Brightly toned watercolors … realistically recreate the scenery and the wildlife of the early 1800s." Environmentalist and author Rachel Carson is also the subject of a biography illustrated by Minor, in Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson. A Publishers Weekly critic felt that Minor's "impressively realistic watercolor and gouache paintings lend a pleasing cohesiveness to this volume." A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that Minor's paintings "outshine the text in portraying the beauties of the world…. Young readers will love the illustrations." With a more modern focus, his illustrations for astronaut Buzz Aldrin's Reaching for the Moon were praised by a Publishers Weekly contributor as "light-infused" paintingst that are "rendered with an almost dizzying clarity."
Craighead George and Minor have collaborated on several titles together. Morning, Noon, and Night combines rhyming text by George describing animals going about their days with watercolors by Minor. The book "offers splendid views of the countryside from Maine to the Pacific and back again," proclaimed a critic for Publishers Weekly. The pair also created a tale of an Inupiat child and a polar bear in an encounter reminiscent of Robert McCloskey's classic Blueberries for Sal. John Peters, writing for Booklist, wrote that the clothing worn by the human characters is "gorgeously ruffed and decorated" in Minor's artwork. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that while the bears in the story might be too human in their actions, "Minor's tableaux are filled with drama and humor." In a book for slightly older readers, George and Minor show readers a tale of adventure in rock climbing with Cliff Hanger. Minor's illustrations are "a series of realistic action shots that capture the athleticism of the sport," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, while Dorian Chong wrote in School Library Journal that Minor's "realistic art advances the tension" in the story.
When asked what he hoped young readers would gain from his work, Minor recalled his own influences—the work of the great American naturalist painters from the nineteenth century, as well as authors like Carl Sandburg, whose work made a lasting impression on him as a child. "What I would like to be remembered for is a man who wanted to bring a positive message to the next generation," Minor told an interviewer for the Borders Books Web site, "but also show in a positive light how beautiful this country is, how wonderful our history is, how wonderful … other creative [Americans] have been." On his home page Minor states that his goal in writing "is to inspire children to go out into the fields and woods and mountains to see wildlife in its natural habitat, and to give the children a positive perspective about the beauty that abounds in the world."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 15, 1995, p. 42; March 15, 1998, p. 1242; July, 1999, p. 8; August, 1999, John Peters, review of Snow Bear, p. 2063; September 1, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Pumpkin Heads!, p. 134; October 1, 2001, John Peters, review of Cat, What Is That?, p. 315; January 1, 2003, Julie Cummins, review of Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream, p. 874.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 2000, review of Pumpkin Heads!, p. 31.
Communication Arts, May-June, 2000, Michael Kaplan, "Wendell Minor," p. 88.
Horn Book, January-February, 1998, p. 71; May, 1999, review of A Lucky Thing, p. 347.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1998, review of Grand Canyon, p. 1044; August 1, 2001, review of We Were There, p. 1118; May 15, 2002, review of Cliff Hanger, p. 732; January 1, 2003, review of Into the Woods, p. 58; March 1, 2003, review of Rachel, p. 382.
Library Journal, August, 1995, p. 72.
Library Media Connection, January, 2004, review of America the Beautiful, p. 70.
New York Times Book Review, November 5, 1995, Jackie Fitzpatrick, "Books to Delight the Child in Us All."
People, September 18, 1995, p. 42.
Publishers Weekly, June 5, 1995, p. 63; February 23, 1998, p. 75; September 7, 1998, p. 93; May 10, 1999, review of A Lucky Thing, p. 68; May 31, 1999, review of Morning, Noon, and Night, p. 91; June 14, 1999, review of Sky Memories, p. 71; August 9, 1999, review of Snow Bear, p. 351; September 25, 2000, Elizabeth Devereaux, review of Pumpkin Heads!, p. 62; December 4, 2000, review of Abe Lincoln Remembers, p. 73; July 31, 2001, review of Cat, What Is That? p. 83; September 24, 2001, review of We Were There, p. 51; April 29, 2002, review of Cliff Hanger, p. 69; December 2, 2002, review of Into the Woods, p. 52; January 6, 2003, review of Rachel, p. 59; June 2, 2003, "In Honor of America," p. 20; May 30, 2005, review of Reaching for the Moon, p. 60.
Reading Teacher, May, 1999, review of Grand Canyon, p. 867.
School Library Journal, August, 1998, Patricia Manning, review of Grand Canyon, p. 180; June, 1999, Joan Zaleski, review of A Lucky Thing, p. 120; August, 1999, Marilyn Payne Phillips, review of Sky Memories, p. 125; September, 1999, Patricia Manning, review of Snow Bear, p. 182, and Arwen Marshall, review of Frightful's Mountain, p. 223; September, 2000, Doris Gebel, review of Pumpkin Heads!, p. 206; February, 2001, Mary Ann Carcich, review of Abe Lincoln Remembers, p. 116; September, 2001, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Cat, What Is That? p. 192; October, 2001, review of We Were There, p. 62; December, 2002, Dorian Chong, review of Cliff Hanger, p. 96; February, 2003, review of Into the Woods, p. 128; May, 2003, Margaret Bush, review of Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson, p. 136; July, 2003, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, review of America the Beautiful, p. 110; August 3, 2005, Jeffrey A. French, review of Reaching for the Moon.
Social Education, May, 1999, review of Grand Canyon, p. 5.
Borders Books Web site, http://www.borders.com/ (December 10, 1998), interview with Minor.
Wendell Minor Home Page, http://www.minorart.com (September 15, 2005).