Trina Schart Hyman

Trina Schart Hyman, who died last November, was my favorite illustrator growing up, and come to think of it, she still is. She used to do cover illustrations and border art for the children's magazine Cricket, which my sister and I read as kids. (The margins had a delightful cartoon called "Cricket and Ladybug".) Fortunately, my parents saved all the old copies of Cricket, and I was able to salvage them from the basement last year - they're sitting in a box by my desk right now, more than 60 issues dating from 1974 to 1979.

Trina created a rich and seductive fantasy world for such classics as "Sleeping Beauty", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Saint George and the Dragon", "Peter Pan", and "The Golem". I never outgrew my enjoyment of children's books, and especially her art. It's passionate, frightening, romantic, and magical.

This bio gives a little background about her life:
Trina was born on April 8, 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Margaret Doris Bruck and Albert H. Schart. She grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania learning to read and draw at an early age. She credits her mother for instilling in her the joy of books by reading to her from the time she was an infant. She spent a whole year wearing a red satin cape that her mother had made for her because her favorite story was Little Red Riding Hood. 
“I figured out at four years old that somebody had made the pictures in my books and though I didn’t know what these people were called, I knew I wanted to be a book illustrator. . . . I began to make books from my own stories and drew pictures to illustrate them. “

“It was always very clear to me—and to everyone else, too—exactly what I would do when I grew up. I would be an artist, and I would be the sort of artist who made pictures that told stories. It wasn’t until the seventh grade that I learned about the word illustrator, but when I heard it, I knew that that was me.”

... Although she skipped first grade, Trina never felt like she was a good student, preferring to doodle rather than do the assigned work. It wasn’t until she enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art in 1956 that she blossomed. 
“Suddenly, I was not only allowed to draw all day long, I was expected to! I was surrounded by other artists all day, and we talked, ate, lived and dreamed about art. It was as though I had been living, all my life, in a strange country where I could never quite fit in—and now I had come home.”

In 1959, she married mathematician and engineer, Harris Hyman, and they moved to Boston where he had gotten a job. She continued studying at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts.

I know Harris; as it happens, we go to the same shul - although I haven't been going as regularly as I should lately, or I probably would have learned of Trina's passing earlier. They had a baby girl, Katrin, in 1963, and went their separate ways in 1968. Harris is a nice fellow, and he and Trina remained on good terms; Harris told me his daughter (from a later marriage) would refer to Trina as her "fairy godmother".

Trina was a low-tech kind of person:
Distrustful of technology, Trina proudly admits to not owning a “mind-destroying, soul-sucking” television, or any other convenience remotely technological. Making a solemn vow at the time of her daughter’s birth, she chose instead to fill their home with hundreds of good books and took the time to read them. She credits this practice with teaching her daughter to read at the age of four.

Good for her! My parents didn't forbid television, but they did ration it strictly. Most evenings we'd sit in the living room, all four of us, and read aloud. "Family reading" was a sacred institution in our house. We'd each take a turn reading from a young-adult book, or, later, a regular novel or classic. This did amazing things for our reading, speaking, and listening skills, and I'll always consider it one of the biggest gifts Mom and Dad gave us. My father, I remember, had an excellent reading voice. (In his later years, I believe he spent some time as a volunteer reader for some kind of audio books. So perhaps even now someone is out there listening to my father read.) We read Lucy M. Boston (the Green Knowe books), Susan Cooper ("The Dark Is Rising" series), Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, and Stephen King. (Yes, really. Mom was a big Stephen King fan.) There was a lot more, too, but those are the ones I remember.

I've always had a bit of a luddite streak myself, although plainly I have a geeky side too. I'll always trust the intimacy of tangible objects - books, handwritten letters, and so on - in a way that I will never feel comfortable with electronic communications. But enough about me; back to Trina.

Moving beyond drawing European characters, Trina went on to illustrate "The Fortune Tellers" (set in her son-in-law's native Cameroon) and "The Serpent Slayer: Stories of Strong Women". In her later years she suffered from arthritis, which made it difficult for her to work; and from cancer, which finally claimed her life on November 19, 2004.

I never got to meet Trina, although I did mail her an enthusiastic fan letter as a young adult, which she was kind enough to answer. (I still have Trina's letter, along with the autographed copy of her autobiography, "Self-Portrait: Trina Schart Hyman" that she sent me.) After selling my parents' house last year, I splurged a little and bought an original of one of her works from Child At Heart Gallery - a woman with piercing eyes and flaming red hair, holding a glowing sphere in her hands and standing against a dramatic, dark background. I like to imagine that it represents the secret, Divine spark, which we all share, but which too often we keep hidden. When we hold it the right way, it shines.

Trina Schart Hyman links:
Child At Heart Gallery
Trina Schart Hyman biography
tribute from Open Fields School
Cricket Magazine
Reading Room: Remembering Trina Schart Hyman
The Horn Book: Trina Schart Hyman
LiveJournal: Trina Schart Hyman thread
Powell's Books: The Sleeping Beauty

Thanks to my dear friend Blanche in San Francisco for passing the news.