Charming Childhood Nostalgia: Harry Devlin at the Zimmerli Art Museum / by Cornelius

By Mike Brown
Published: Feb 28, 2017

    New Jersey based artist, Harry Devlin, created children’s books, The Knobby Boys to the Rescue and How Fletcher Was Hatched in the mid to late ‘60s with the help of his wife Wende Devlin. The couple eventually went on to publish a total of 26 children’s books. He is recognized for having a successful career as a cartoonist, artist, illustrator, and member of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature--which makes his exhibition at Zimmerli Art Museum all the more special.

The name of the show at Zimmerli is called, Fletcher and the Knobby Boys: Illustrations by Harry Devlin and it was curated by Christine Giviskos. One of the most beautiful things about Devlin’s work is how conscientiously his rendering of background is crafted in watercolor--this is in regards to general atmospheric representation as well as depiction of physical landscape. His illustrations maintain a playfully nostalgic aesthetic that holds steady even in the eyes of a viewer who has not previously ready the stories as a child. This emphasis on visual detail perfectly chronicles the timeline of each story. This is less apparent in the Zimmerli exhibition because the emphasis lies on the illustrations as separate entities from the stories but the works on paper seem to take on a very life of their own in the same spirit as they do in conjunction with the written story. What is important to note is the incredible detail present within Devlin’s work that is not as apparent in the publications. The hand-drawn work is significantly larger, yielding a better understanding of his process and stylistic choices within the scenes he depicts.

While beginning to learn how to read, it is very helpful to be able to reference a visual depiction of the words written on a page--this further strengthens the connection between new words and future mental visualization. This is especially so in the case of books that aimed to keep the picture book feel with a more complex story line. Viewing Devlin’s illustrations in person makes it effortless to appreciate this relationship even more so in large format having already gone through the process of learning to read with the help of picture books.

The exhibition is on view through the 25th of June and remains open to the public Fridays through Sundays at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University.

Photos courtesy of Zimmeri Art Museum