Sarah S. Stilwell Weber’s culminating works

December 14, 2014

Kiddie Kar Verses (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott Company, 1920) by Richard J. Walsh (second husband of Pearl S. Buck, 1892-1973) was illustrated with color plates and elaborate decorative borders by Sarah S. Stilwell Weber. She created elaborate borders for mirrored two-page spreads (the left page showed her initials backwards with color illustrations (copyrighted by H.C. White Co., 1920) with Walsh’s series of nine jingles to be read aloud to children.

The Musical Tree (1925), probably Sarah’s last major work, contains songs and pictures by the artist and her husband Herbert. The Musical Tree shows how Sarah’s career unfolded: she was able to synthesize elements of childhood utilizing all of the experience and illustrative styles that converged through her twenty-five year career. “Lady Fair,” for the story of Sleeping Beauty is a melodious work, blending patterns to create a sort of line rhythm that is busy with motion yet serene in spirit. Sarah by this time hints at faces with just a few lines – they become like the faces of dolls in her earlier works – vessels for a child’s imagination.

Musical_Tree

Illustration of Bluebeard’s Wife from the Musical Tree.

Although Sarah’s work was well received, her shy and modest demeanor seemed to lead her out of the mainstream art world once she married and started a family. Sarah Stilwell Weber remains sweetly enigmatic, remembered for her graphic art and fine line drawings that captured the spirit of children at play. Of all of her works, “Happy Days” with its simple energetic optimism retains an attraction.

Sarah Stilwell Weber created enticing portrayals of children at play that appeared in important magazines of her day, including St. Nicholas, Vogue, the Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s Magazine, and Scribners’ Magazine. Stilwell Weber’s work often integrated inanimate objects including dolls, toys, and books to work through issues of growing up. Her work, almost forgotten, remains an exciting document of children, childhood, and child’s play at the turn-of-the-twentieth century. Her work is worthy of further study as an example of illustrations that chronicle healthy children.

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