Dorothy Pulis Lathrop
(1891–1980)
Dorothy Lathrop was fortunate to have her career span the end of the golden age of illustration into modern times, for which she has received numerous awards for both her writings and illustrations.

Childhood

Dorothy Pulis Lathrop was born on April 16, 1891 in Albany, New York to Cyrus Clark Lathrop, a businessman, and I. Pulis Lathrop, an artist. Lathrop recalls art being a part of her life from an early age. The creatively charged atmosphere in the Lathrop household must have been great because Lathrop’s sister Gertrude became a sculptress. 

She also credits her paternal grandfather, who owned a bookstore in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for fostering her love of books. This early exposure to literature fired her desire to write and, later, to combine it with her love of art.

Education

Lathrop studied art for three years at the Teachers College of Columbia University and graduated with a teacher’s diploma, which pleased her father, a practical man who did not believe that any one could make a living at art. She also studied illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Art Students League in New York City.

Professional Career

Teaching art for two years at the Albany High School made her realize that she would prefer illustrating children’s books. Her first illustrated book, Japanese Prints by John Gould Fletcher, was published in 1919 but unfortunately the publisher went bankrupt before she received payment. Nonetheless, her career was off and running because a new book illustrated by Lathrop appeared almost every year.

It was the encouragement of Louise Seaman of the Macmillan Company that gave her the support she needed to try her own hand at writing. The resulting book was The Fairy Circus published in 1931 and was a Newbery Honor book in 1932.

For many years, the two sisters shared a studio with their mother, which they soon outgrew. The two sisters moved into a house and had a two-room studio built in the back. Gertrude was in the habit of bringing home little creatures to model for her sculptures. It wasn’t long before Lathrop found that she enjoyed drawing animals, and started to write her own stories which included animals.

In 1938, Lathrop was honored to be the very first recipient of the Caldecott Medal for her work on The Animals of the Bible, text by Helen Dean Fish. You can read her acceptance speech and the biographical paper written by her sister Gertrude at the Bud Plant web site. In the foreword of The Animals of the Bible the author states:

“During the drawing of these pictures, the artist studied not only the fauna but the flora of Bible lands and times, and each desert rose as well as each goat and turtle dove is as true to natural history as is possible to be.” 
Between book assignments, Lathrop enjoyed wood engraving. Like her books, she preferred animals for her subjects, becoming quite proficient at the process, winning several awards. Lathrop received a Library of Congress prize in 1946 where her work is represented in their permanent collection. Later in life, Lathrop moved to a small town in Connecticut where she enjoyed showing her pet dogs in dog shows. Lathrop died December 30, 1980 in Falls Village, Connecticut.

Influences, Style & Technique

I have not found any mention of any of Lathrop's early influences but Lynn Ellen Lacy, in her excellent book Art and Design in Children’s Picture Books, has this too say about Lathrop and her work:

“Lathrop’s stature as a color illustrator in the 1920s and 1930s was equal to that of her Art Nouveau contemporaries in fantasy, fellow Americans Jessie Willcox Smith and Maxfield Parrish, the popular Dane Kay Nielsen, and British subjects Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham.”
She has worked in oil, watercolor, pen and ink and lithographic pencil. Much of her black and white work is high in contrast featuring large areas of black, yet her delicate pencil drawings in Bells and Grass can be so soft.

Raison d’Être

Certainly, the artistic household that Lathrop grew up in had much to do with fostering her creativity. 

“My mother . . . is a painter. It undoubtedly was seeing her at work, being in her studio, and there encouraged to use her brushes and paints that gave me my interest in art. From her came much of my training in paint, and talk of art and artists was from a very early age part of my daily life.”
But for Lathrop, there was another driving force, From her Caldecott Medal acceptance speech:
“… For a person who does not love what he is drawing, whatever it may be, children or animals, or anything else, will not draw them convincingly, and that, simply because he will not bother to look at them long enough really to see them. What we love, we gloat over and feast our eyes upon. And when we look again and again at any living creature, we cannot help but perceive its subtlety of line, its exquisite patterning and all its unbelievable intricacy and beauty. The artist who draws what he does not love, draws from a superficial concept. But the one who loves what he draws is very humbly trying to translate into an alien medium life itself, and it is his joy and his pain that he knows that life to be matchless.”
Books Illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop

Dorothy P. Lathrop Biography at Bud Plant Books
(This site will open in a new window.)
 
 

Sources

Commire, Anne, Something About the Author Volume 14, Detroit, Gale Research, 1978.
Commire, Anne, Something About the Author Volume 24, Detroit, Gale Research.
Kingman, Lee et al., Illustrators of Children's Books 1957–1966, Boston, Horn Book, 1968.
Mahoney, Bertha E. and Whitney, Elinor, Contemporary Illustrators of Children's Books, The Book Shop for Boys and Girls, Boston, 1930.
Miller, Bertha Mahony  and Field, Elinor Whitney. Caldecott Medal Books: 1938–1957, Boston: Horn Book, 1957.
Miller, Bertha Mahoney et al., Illustrator's of Children’s Books 1946–1956, Boston, Horn Book, 1958.

 
© 2000–2002 Denise Ortakales
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This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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The Three Mulla Mulgars,
Duckworth & Co., 1919.
Little Boy Lost, Alfred A.
Knopf, 1920.
Little Boy Lost, Alfred A.
Knopf, 1920.
Teasdale, Sara, Stars
To-Night, Macmillan, 1930.
Teasdale, Sara, Stars
To-Night, Macmillan, 1930.
Field, Rachel, Hitty: Her
First Hundred Years,
Macmillan, New York,
1939.
Field, Rachel, Hitty: Her
First Hundred Years,
Macmillan, New York,
1939.
La Mare, Walter De, Mr.
Bumps and His Monkey,
Philadelphia, Winston,
1942.
La Mare, Walter De, Mr.
Bumps and His Monkey,
Philadelphia, Winston,
1942.
de la Mare, Walter, Bells
and Grass, Viking, 1963.
"Gold Fish" wood engrav-
ing, annual print for The
Print Club of Albany, 1944.

 
de la Mare, Walter, Bells and Grass, Viking, 1963.