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Paul O. Zelinsky

“To see original art from almost the whole length—so far—of my career in children’s books, all gathered together, is an exciting experience for me, but an odd one. You’d expect a one-person show, especially one that spans a hefty period of years, to chart the progress of an artist’s vision. Museum and gallery exhibits are designed around this fact: artists grow and develop their style, and we viewers gain something when we peek in on that phenomenon. But from the very beginning, the pictures I’ve created for books have been so all-over-the-map that this show hardly looks like the kind of exhibit it is. An art director once commented that my portfolio looked more like that of an artist’s agent than of a single artist. I hope I’ve gotten better over the years, the whole tribe of me. What is consistent is how I try to train my hand and eye, with each new project, to address the needs of the text I’m illustrating. I’ve said that I want to make pictures that speak in the same voice as the words.

When I was little, I did want to be an artist (Picasso, to be specific) but not an illustrator. I wasn’t quite aware that books were illustrated by living people, while at the time, Picasso was very much alive. But I also wanted to be an astronomer, an architect, a taxidermist, and lots of other things I don’t remember. I didn’t end up pursuing a dozen separate careers, but I did find my own way to keep trying different things.”
-Paul O. Zelinsky

Paul O. Zelinsky was born in suburban Chicago where his mother worked as a medical illustrator and his father a mathematician. As a child he drew incessantly. He became an art major at Yale College, where he had the good fortune to take a course on the art and history of the picture book, taught by Maurice Sendak—the first class that Sendak ever taught. Zelinsky went on to study painting in Rome and Philadelphia, earning a master’s degree from the Tyler School of Art. Then after a short stint teaching college-level art in California, he was inspired to try his hand at illustration instead. He moved to New York, illustrating at first for periodicals—principally the New York Times and Barron’s Weekly—while pursuing the goal of making books for children. His first book illustrations were for a children’s novel by Avi in 1978. In 1981 he married his wife Deborah, a pianist and an elementary school teacher. His family has appeared only occasionally in his books; his two daughters Anna and Rachel are both present in The Wheels on the Bus. Anna, who was the little girl holding a bridal train in Rumpelstiltskin, is now a junior in college. Paul, Deborah and Rachel still live in the Brooklyn neighborhood he first moved to in 1977.

Zelinsky’s books have won numerous honors and awards, including three Caldecott Honor Books and the 1998 Caldecott Medal for Rapunzel. His Wheels on the Bus has sold more than a million copies worldwide.

Paul O. Zelinsky
Image ©Gordon Trice

Paul O. Zelinsky: Angels to Ogres

Exhibition Retired