Studio Visits: The Atlas Powder Company (for lack of a better name)
The general rules state that when a couple is blessed with the presence of an infant in their home, their social life goes down the proverbial toilet. This is a universal truth, but the real consequences of filial existence don’t really come into play until the child is able to grab and destroy.
So it was that the Birds (husband, wife, and squab) took at trip to Brooklyn one fine and rainy Thursday to visit a group of picture book artists in their shared studio.
You may not be aware of it, but in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn near the Gowanus Canal (described by Brian Floca as, “a fabled strip of water, infamous for the sludge and worse that industry has poured into it over the years”) you will find a studio shared by several children’s book legends. It is here that Sophie Blackall, John Bemelmans Marciano, John Rocco, Brian Floca, and Sergio Ruzzier ply their trade. They’re all members of the Book Maker’s Dozen, a shady organization of artists so twisted they are forced to live in Brooklyn, poor souls, away from anything resembling humanity (see: Gowanus Canal). Or so I thought.
Actually, they’re rather lovely (not to mention sane). John Marciano, Brian, and Sophie were the only folks around this particular day (Sergio and Rocco were not in) but that didn’t mean we didn’t poke about the missing guys’ stuff! Love that original edition of Flint Heart and that storyboarded picture book on your wall, John! I do have some remaining shreds of decency in my soul somewhere, however, so let us only take but a brief glimpse at the folks who were around and about.
The studio itself used to belong to a single designer and had a rather fascinating old feel to it. For example, it had rafters.
Another point of interest was this fabulous old photo that greets you as you come in.
I can’t vouch for which John got saddled with the “Johnny” in this. If I’m not too mistaken, Sophie told me that there had been some thought amongst the studio mates of dubbing themselves “The Atlas Powder Company” accordingly. As they did not, I shall do so now. There’s something enticing about the combination of the words “Atlas” and “Powder”. I can’t account for it. I did have some vague hope that maybe this photo had been in the studio waiting for them prior to their arrival (sans the additional names) but no such luck.
Upon entering Sophie Blackall bestowed upon my offspring an Egg Doll.
As with all good dolls she came with splendid underclothes. I do believe that you will be able to purchase one of these for yourself soon. Just not quite yet. She even comes with a little poem. It reads:
“A is for Adelaide –
Quick on her feet,
She like sorting buttons
And odd cuts of meat.”
As you can see, the child instantly took to her.
This was particularly exciting to me because a year or two ago my mother purchased for me this Blackall print with its library-related text:
It hangs in my bedroom as we speak.
Because there were only three artists around, I decided to snoop everywhere but only record for posterity the working spaces of those that I could get permission from. So it was that I took a gander at . . .
John Bemelman Marciano’s
John’s had a particularly clean and tidy feel to it. Like you could eat off his desk sans plate. An odd sensation.
Oh! And fun fact. Remember that gigantic Edward Gorey spider cover that I featured in a Fusenews the other day? Well lo and behold Brian Floca found its companion novel!
Ms. Blackall’s office fulfilled my every wish. In fact, Ms. Blackall herself leaves one delighted. This is her bicycle:
Note that even the protective helmet is decorated.
In her space we found this little set-up.
To my chagrin it is for a picture book that may never see the light of day. A true pity since picture books containing handmade models are some of my favorites. Here Comes the Garbage Barge, for example, was plummy. Ditto the work Yuyi Morales poured into My Abuelita by Tony Johnston. Imagine a book like those two but done by Sophie Blackall. Sure would win all sort of awards, right? *raises eyebrows significantly and coughs delicately*
This was just a short visit before we proceeded to lunch, so as studio visits go this was an abbreviated one (as far as I’m concerned Jules Danielson has the market cornered in terms of beautiful studio encapsulations). But do you want to hear these folks speak for themselves? You’re in luck! The Eric Carle Museum will feature a discussion between The Atlas Powder Company and The Carle’s bookseller Andy Laties on October 16th at 11:30.
Thanks to John and the others for a lovely visit!
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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