Leonard Weisgard was born in New Haven the 13th of December, 1916, the only child of Samuel and Fanny Weisgard. Samuel was born in Manchester so much of Leonard's childhood was spent in England. The family moved back to America when Leonard was 8. Leonard Weisgard once stated," Exposure to the dreary pictures and stories used in public school textbooks forced me to resolve that someday I would perhaps try to change those books". He stayed true to his word and later came to illustrate over 200 books.
"My first art experience was to let paint drip down the sides of milk bottles and watch the accidental patterns as the different colors overlapped. Then I tried everything, including cutting up lace curtains just to interrupt the design. After taking my punishment, I developed a tremendous esteem for Belgian lacemakers."
"A particular school teacher was responsible for provoking and developing my interest in drawing and painting. Exposure to the dreary pictures and stories used in publick school textbooks forced me to resolve â€“ someday I would perhaps try to change those books! The world could not be all that dreary and limited to only one color." 2
After two years at Pratt Institute and The New School of Social Research, he studied dance with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.
Weisgard's career seriously started with his illustrations for various magazines such as "Good Housekeeping", "The New Yorker", and " Harper's Bazaar".
Weisgard was deeply inspired by primitive cave paintings, Gothic and Renaissance art, avant-garde French illustrators of the 1920ies and American folklore.
He used several techniques and media in his artwork - poster paint, gouache, chalk, crayon, decoupage, stenciling, pen and ink. In Weisgard's illustrations one can often see pieces of American folk art, of which he was a serious collector.
In 1937 Weisgard's first book, Suki, The Siamese Pussy was published.
His productive collaboration with Margaret Wise Brown began with The Noisy Books in which children could interact and imitate a whole array of sounds and noises. Their book, The Little Island, was awarded The Caldecott Medal for its artwork, in 1947.
Clement Hurd, also a famous illustrator and wife of Edith Thatcher Hurd (who wrote, Jacks Adventure and collaborated with Margaret Wise Brown on the Seven Little Postmen. Both Little Golden Books) and close friend of Leonard, said in his essay honoring the medal, "His images of a rock outcropping near Vinalhaven, Maine the island where MWB had a cottage ( The Only House) perfectly captured what her biographer, Leonard Marcus called ' a poet's notations of seasonal change. "
" I seem to use water color, gouache, poster paint, crayon , chalk, ink and whatever suggests itself for the story or text, or whatever is asked for by the production department. I work with any deeply resent acetate as a surface. I would rather work on sidewalk or wood or plaster." 2
Leonard Weisgard also worked together with several other writers and sometimes both wrote and illustrated children's books - occasionally under the pseudonym "Adam Green".
Weisgard married Phyllis Monnot in 1951. They had three children, Abigail(1952) Christina (1954) and Ethan (1957) After a few years living in New York, Roxbury, Connecticut became their home.
Phyllis and Leonard often worked together creating costumes and sets for the first full length American "Nutcracker Suite" and "The Dryad" for the San Francisco Ballet. Leonard would draw the costumes, Phyllis would design the patterns.
Leonard Weisgard served as chairman of the local school board in Roxbury. He became deeply involved within the field of education, lecturing often and working with The American Library Association. He initiated "A Town Wants to Know" - a lecture series bringing in artists, writers and scientists to talk about their expertise - spanning from the arts to archaeology.
A boat trip through the European waterways in 1967 brought about a meaningful friendship with a Danish/ Swedish couple. They suggested Weisgard visit their country. In 1969 the Weisgards moved to Denmark for what was originally supposed to be one year. One year became two, two became three, and finally in 1973, Leonard made the decision to sell everything he owned, including his antique collection, and settle permanently in Glumso, Denmark.
Phyllis died in 1991, just after her 70th birthday. Leonard died on January 14th, 2000. His children and grandchildren (Ethan and Midoriko's son and (daughter) Yuji, now 16 and Nanami, now 17, all live in Copenhagen.
" I feel uniquely privileged to be a part of the world that produces books for children and to be working in an area that is remarkably free from the increasingly artificial pressures and curously false standards prevalent in so many other fields of work today."3
Sources: Family, The LA Times from the 24th January, 2000, The New York Times, January 27th 2000 Eden Ross Lipson. Leonard S. Marcus
1 Lee Bennett Hopkins, Books Are by People, Citation Press, 1969.
2 Lee Kingman and other compiler, Illustrators of Children's Books: 1957-1966, Horn Book, 1968.
3 Leonard Weisgard, Contemporary Art and Children's Book Illustrations, Horn Book, April, 1960
Leonard Weisgard Website