Book Illustrators – Taken for Granted?

In my research to determine copyrights of images for Reusable Art I have been quite surprised how little information there is on the web and elsewhere about the many wonderful book illustrators for the books that I have been working with.

In the United States, copyrights are primarily based on the date of publication. Anything published prior to 1923 is now in the public domain. Most of the rest of the world allows creatives copyright protection for their natural lifetime plus a number of years after their death. Most countries use either death plus 50 years or death plus 70 years to determine the length of a copyright.

While there are some wonderful sites online that do include information about authors, painters, and other famous creative types, the is much less information on book illustrators. And for some perverse reason, much of that information does not contain their birth and death dates – information that drives the legal status of their works in almost every country in the world.

Not finding what I was looking for, I called the library at Boston University (my alma mater). I was referred to the “art librarian”. The lady I spoke with was very patient and was on the phone with me for about an hour. During the hour she tried to also find some of the illustrators on my list. Much to her amazement, many prolific and major illustrators are simply not included on any of the major art reference sites on the Internet.

We lamented about poor Helen, Myrtle and Nellie. Three talented artists we were unable to find something as seemingly simple as their date of birth or date of death. Helen Stratten appears to be the most ‘famous’ of the three having drawn 400 illustrations for a book by Hans Christian Anderson. Yet, even with credentials like that, she only rates a few paragraphs.

In building Reusable Art, I’ve been going through many old books, magazines, and other print materials. I have seen some artwork that would be worthy of being framed and hung on the wall, yet the artists that created those works appears to not warrant much more than a footnote in history. Illustrated by is as much recognition as many are permitted.

As children, we all loved getting a new book full of beautiful and brightly colored illustrations. Many children, too young to read, simply page through books and make up their own story to go with the pictures.

So, the next time you pick up a book that has drawings, maps, or any other illustrations, take a moment to consider the talented artist who created those pictures. Enjoy their work and remember their continuing contributions to the world of art.

p.s. The most comprehensive resource I’ve found online for researching book illustrators is Wikipedia. Check their list of Illustrators by Nationality. Unfortunately, they have not listed the three ladies that I am searching for – Nellie Benson, Mrytle Sheldon, and Helen Stratton.

A few suggestions for further reading...

3 Responses to Book Illustrators – Taken for Granted?

If this is the same Nellie Benson, She was one of my great grandmothers.. I do have birth and death info, My mother also has one of her original paintings. We found it in an antique shop in Maine. I am still looking for one for my house


Comment by rick on

Wow Rick! I am so excited that you found my blog. Perhaps we can clear up some of the mystery of who is Nellie Benson the illustrator. I’ve sent you an e-mail and look forward to hearing back from you.


Comment by Michele on

Unfortunately, while Rick does have a great grandmother named Nellie Benson and she was a very talented artist, it is not the same Nellie Benson that illustrated the book I found.

So, for now, the hunt for my elusive illustrator continues…


Comment by Michele on

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