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SYBILLA COOK
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November 7, 2013
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Book review: Hader biography presents portrait of a marriage, joint career

Elmer and Berta Hader were a Caldecott-winning picture book team in the 1900s. When they met in San Francisco in 1915, both were establishing themselves in the fine arts field. Berta painted miniature portraits on ivory and Elmer was an up-and-coming California impressionist with several gallery shows.

But World War I interrupted their lives, and Elmer went off to serve in France with the camouflage corps. Berta went to New York City to await his return, supporting herself with fashion illustrations for McCall’s, and then a children’s page.

After Elmer returned, they decided to marry and continue to support themselves as artists. She continued with her children’s pages, including paper dolls and cutouts, and he did anything that came his way — from magazine covers, book covers and illustrations to engravings, chapter headings, cartoons, portraits and paintings.

Berta and Elmer clearly shared a love of the natural beauty around them. Their love of life extended to everyone they met. From their wedding day on, every weekend was spent with a large covey of friends. These young artists, poets, and journalists helped the Haders build, by hand, a lovely house near Nyack, N.Y. on an “unbuildable” former brownstone quarry.

Their friends, who included writer Katherine Ann Porter and humorist Dorothy Parker, spent weekends hauling rocks, working on foundations and nailing walls. The result was a house that was filled every weekend with guests sharing conversation and food.

They answered a call for artists to illustrate a forthcoming series of children’s books, winning an assignment on the merits of their drawings of the Ugly Duckling. This book was created by both of them, putting all their joint techniques together. From that year through the 1960s, no year was complete without at least one new Hader book, whether written jointly or illustrating other authors works.

This book celebrates their whimsical view of life and the variety of art they created. Full-color illustrations make up most of the book, with enough biographical detail to give a view of the artists’ personal and career development. Berta and Elmer gave most of their work on children’s books to the University of Oregon library. The collection features notes and research files for stories, correspondence with editors, drafts, sketches, dummies, and completed books. The rest of their art pieces remained first with their New York City nephew, and then with their niece in Roseburg, Joy Hoerner Rich. This collection has now been given to Concordia College.

John and Judith Waller, themselves Roseburg artists, have used all the latest advances in photography to create the stunning reproductions found in this book. Elmer’s studies of San Francisco Bay and Telegraph Hill show a mastery of color and the impressionist techniques he learned in Paris. Berta’s miniatures demonstrate her fine hand in tiny brush strokes. This combined mastery of line and color created many of the wonderful illustrations in their 20th century children’s books. The result is a beautiful book designed for study and display of art techniques, a tremendous resource for those interested in children’s literature and a treasure for all those who remember our childhood books and want to share them with others.

Sybilla Cook, a former media specialist for the Glide and Winston-Dillard school districts, moved from the Roseburg area to Portland in 2010. She’s writing a biography of Berta and Elmer Hader that has the working title “Drawn Together.” Her website is sybillacook.com and you can read her blog at http://sybillacook.blogspot.com/.


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The News-Review Updated Nov 13, 2013 09:54AM Published Nov 7, 2013 10:24AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.