Ardizzone: Finding a Letter Among the Leaves

Co-curator Alan Powers finds a unique piece of correspondence

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  • Alan Powers
  • Exhibitions

It was opening day minus five when Olivia Ahmad and I were choosing books and drawings to put in the display cases at the House of Illustration for the Edward Ardizzone retrospective.

Lenders had generously allowed us to take away their treasures from castles in Kent (thank you, Jane Clark), farmhouses at the end of bumpy tracks in Sussex (thank you Chris Mees) and, most of all, Ardizzone’s daughter Christianna. From her neatly ordered shelf containing most of the 177 books that he illustrated in the course of 50 years, I picked his own copy of Walter de la Mare’s Peacock Pie; published by Faber & Faber in 1946, after Ardizzone had worked on the drawings in the evenings in Italy during his service as an Official War Artist, it was one of his favourites.

As I opened this copy of the book, a dark blue sheet of paper appeared, glued to the flyleaf – a letter to Ardizzone from Walter de la Mare, thanking him in beautifully turned words!

It was the piece of evidence I had failed to find in the Faber Archive. Too late for my book, but better late than never. Transcription for a label in the display case was easy, apart from one word we couldn’t get. It began with a capital P, but none of the options seemed to fit. Giles de la Mare, the poet’s grandson, cracked it for us – ‘Pieman’. We should have expected a poet who writes about Peacock Pie to use such a word for his illustrator.

Come to the House of Illustration to discover the letter, and the rest of the treasures we have been able to borrow.

Ardizzone: A Retrospective – the first major exhibition of his work for forty years – is on until 22 January 2017

The exhibition coincides with the publication by Lund Humphries of Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator, the first full illustrated monograph of Ardizzone by Alan Powers.