I was at a flea market in Shipley the other day, where a lot of the stall holders sell second hand books. I was there on the hunt for lithographs but I can never resist going through a pile of old books. One of the joys of second hand bookshops and flea markets is coming across titles you remember from your childhood, and this week I came up with a gem. I must have been in my last year in primary when I first saw it. There was a little stationery shop around the corner from my parents’ house. It sold ink, crayons , comics, magazines and a few-non fiction titles too, and this one sat in the shop window for a long time. I vividly remember trying to memorise the wonderful jewel-bright picture on the front cover, a group of what I took to be Florentine tradesmen arguing on a street in Tuscany. I later wrote story about it and I was bitterly disappointed when the book was sold and its place in the shop window taken up by something else.
Although the picture on the cover stayed with me, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the book’s title or the names of the author and illustrator. Now that I have my own copy after all these years, I can tell you the book was called Living In A Medieval City, by that stalwart of 1970’s children reference books, R J Unstead. It was published by A C Black in 1971. The illustrator is not credited on the cover but it’s Ron Stenberg. No wonder the pictures made me drool. Stenberg is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated, and prolific, artists.
Stenberg was born in Auckland in 1919. He made a name for himself as a painter in New Zealand where he was a part of the Rutland Group. In 1954, he moved to Europe, first settling in Sweden and then in Scotland. He was appointed head of illustration at Duncan of Jordanstone college of Art in Dundee and stayed in Scotland for thirty years. While there he exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, The Glasgow Institute and the Royal Society of British Artists in London. He also found time to work for the Scottish Daily Express and to illustrate children’s books, so reaching out to kids like me who would not otherwise have been aware of his work. He was, in fact, a founding member of the Society of Illustrators.
Now in his 90s, Stenberg returned to his native New Zealand in the 1980s. He is still working, bringing diamond-sharp magic to a new audience. Do you have a favourite illustrator, or picture, from your childhood. Do share……
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