Her first book, Under the North Light, the Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham, was recently heralded with prestigious awards. Now author Lawrence Webster will lead a tour of Storybook, the home where Maud and Miska Petersham lived and created iconic children’s books together over a 40-year career. The couple’s granddaughter, Mary Petersham Reinhard, will join Webster in relating anecdotes and childhood memories as they re-explore the nooks and alcoves of the studio where they played and which the Petershams — two of the most influential illustrators of children’s books in the 20th century — designed during the 1920s. Decorated with motifs familiar to their illustrations, Storybook is a work of art in itself.
The tour of the house at 2380 Glasco Turnpike starts at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 22. Webster will present a new slide show of the artists’ work related to Storybook, which she describes as “a classic Woodstock handmade house.” The Petershams bought the land from Peter Whitehead (son of the founder of the Byrdcliffe Art Colony) circa 1922. Miska oversaw the construction by local carpenters and stone masons. Although Byrdcliffe was prominent in the Arts and Crafts movement, the Petershams’ studio was not of that genre. Inspired by the imagination of children, this habitat is truly one of a kind.
The Golden Notebook is sponsoring the event made possible by Storybook’s new owner, Lou Teti, who graciously agreed to open the house for this special occasion. Webster will sign copies of her book, for which she was honored with the 2013 gold medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards Association for Best Biography and the Benjamin Franklin Award for 2013 in the biography category. She is also is a finalist for the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in biography.
“I’m tickled,” said Webster, a Woodstock native known as Larry. Her parents were friends of Maud and Miska since before she was born. She knew the Petershams well while growing up in Woodstock during the 1950s and 1960s. Mary, her contemporary, visited during the summers, and they played at each other’s homes. One year when Larry was in 7th grade and the Petershams were in Florida, the Webster family lived in Storybook. “I loved it,” Larry recalled. “I have such great memories of Christmas there with my older sisters.”
The publisher, Woodstock Arts, owned by Julia and Weston Blelock, received the 2013 Ben Franklin Gold Medal in the Editorial and Production category. Under the North Light is indeed a beautiful book, a feast for the eyes as well as the mind, and this recognition provides a well-deserved boost for the local independent publisher.
“This is a real honor. It’s very hard for a smaller press like ours to even think about winning national awards,” Weston Blelock said. “We’re thrilled. It pulls us out of the pack. We have an original perspective with an emphasis on house stories and personal memories.” The Independent Book Awards Association is a huge organization with an annual competition. Publishers submit their latest copies for independent judging. There are fifty categories with thirty to one hundred books in each category.
Reviews of the book have been overwhelmingly positive from a variety of sources. A brief search on Amazon yields pertinent results. By closely examining the Petershams’ professional and business documents Webster has virtually unveiled the genre of children’s book production from inspiration to publication while capturing the warmth and distinction of the Petershams’ unusually close artistic collaboration. She brings the couple to life with their disparate backgrounds and personalities as they complemented each other almost magically. The tour may be an opportunity for the couple, who were known to hold seances, to indicate their presence. Who knows?
Who knew? Maud, a 1912 Vassar graduate, had deep Yankee roots. Miska, the grandson of a shepherd, immigrated from Hungary in 1912 after rigorous study at the Royal National School of Applied Arts in Budapest. She was shy, he was larger than life. They met while working at a commercial design studio in New York City, married in 1917, and moved to Woodstock in 1920. The Petershams were among a handful of people who set the direction for illustrated children’s books as we know them today. Webster makes that clear in her book, the first comprehensive and definitive examination of this remarkable couple.
A labor of love, Under the North Light is a triumph for Webster, Woodstock Arts, and art historians everywhere. Autographed first editions will be available for purchase Saturday.
Under the North Light; The Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham by Lawrence Webster;Woodstock Arts, PO Box 1342, Woodstock, NY www.WoodstockArts.com.