Most of us would have childhood memories of reading books illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. Wilkin started writing Little Golden Books in the 1940s and many of her books are still being re-released today. The illustrations of Eloise Wilkin depict an idyllic environment that is free of dangers and is inhabited by chubby, cherub-faced toddlers and children. These children are mainly of Caucasian appearance, though occasionally other ethnicities do appear. Curiously most children drawn by Wilkin have a closed mouth smile or contemplative expression—you almost never see their teeth. I suppose this was because Wilkin was not comfortable or did not believe she could convincingly draw other expressions. Regardless, I don’t think this lack of varied expression reduced the quality of her images. All of her images are either watercolors or coloured pencil drawings.
Eloise Margaret Wilkin was born (as Eloise Margaret Burns, March 30, 1904–October 4, 1987) in Rochester, NY. She completed an illustration course at the Rochester Institute of Technology and upon graduation, started up an art studio with her friend Joan Esley. However the art studio was unsuccessful and she struggled to find work in Rochester so she moved to New York City. Here Eloise did freelance work for many publishing companies and her first published book was The Shining Hour (1927) for the Century Co. Additionally, Wilkin also illustrated paper dolls for the businesses Playtime House, Jaymar and Samuel Gabriel and Sons.
Eloise married Sidney Wilkin in 1935 and reduced the amount of illustrating work she did for the next nine years in order to raise their four children. She signed a contract with Simon & Schuster in 1944 and went on to illustrate about fifty Little Golden Books. During this time she would use family, relations and neighbours as models for her images. The landscapes that appeared in Eloise’s illustrations were also real and drawn from the areas she lived or holidayed.
Eloise Wilkin started designing dolls in 1961. Her first doll was was the Baby Dear doll produced by Vogue Dolls. Inc. which came in two sizes, 12 and 18 inches.
Eloise went on to create six other dolls.
The Baby Dear doll was released concurrently with the book Baby Dear, published by Little Golden Books, and appears in the book as the little girl’s doll. Another interesting thing about the Baby Dear book is that it was written by Esther Wilkin, Eloise’s sister. Additionally her daughter was the model for the mother and her grandson the model for the baby.
In addition to books Eloise’s images also appeared on calendars, puzzles, the covers of Little Golden Records, china plates, ads, cards and in Child’s Life, Story Parade and Golden Magazine.
Eloise continued to illustrate and design dolls right up until her death, from cancer in 1987.
An extensive bibliography of Eloise Wilkin books can be found at the Loganberry Books website
To listen to a three-part interview with one of Eloise Wilkin’s daughters, Deborah Wilkin Springett go to the triviumpursuit website. The webpage also says you can order her biography about her mother, The Golden Years of Eloise Wilkin, however this page is eight years old, at this time, so it may no longer be available.
Another artist who did many idyllic images of childhood was Elsa Beskow in her Swedish children’s books: