I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Houghton Reading Room in the Harvard Library. Below is a summary of what I was able to discover during the visit.

I made my visit to the Houghton Reading Room on the kind of rainy Saturday morning that should rightfully be spent at home. However, my bravery in tackling the Boston traffic to get to the Harvard Library was more than rewarded when I discovered its treasure trove – arguably the largest and most representative collection of Randolph Caldecott’s work. Formed by Augustin and Caroline Miller Parker, it includes original drawings, sketchbooks, illustrated letters, book cover designs and some oil paintings as well as the vast majority of his published work.

Given time, the library provides the amazing opportunity to survey Caldecott’s career from its very beginning through his acclaimed picture books and illustrations for the Graphic to some of the last drawings undertaken during his final illness in Florida.

I particularly relished browsing through the Queen of Hearts scrapbook. The original sketches, made predominantly in sepia ink over graphite, have been tipped into a beautiful leather bound volume, which includes the original final cover design. Having the opportunity to physically touch the scrapbook helped to bridge the gap of time and establish a fleeting personal contact with the great artist – who may in fact have been a distant relation (my mother was a Caldecott born in Chester, England).

The sense of intimacy was taken a step further when I looked through some of Caldecott’s last drawings, undertaken for a version of Jack and The Beanstalk. The sketches I viewed were preliminary – the commission was incomplete at the time of his death – which made me feel I was witnessing a work in progress. Many of the drawings were of the giant, who seems to have proved something of a challenge. The number of different ways the giant is characterized suggests that Caldecott was exploring ways to represent the giant as more than simply an enlarged human being.

I left the library – still raining – feeling that I had enjoyed a unique opportunity to explore the vast wealth of Caldecott’s original work and had gained new insight and appreciation of his genius.

Clare Nippard
 Back to Caldecott Home Page

Clare is a member of the Randolph Cladecott Society of America and the daughter of Barry Latham, friend and member of the Randolph Caldecott Society UK.

Pages Written by Allan C. Reichert
Randolph Caldecott Society of America
Updated on 3/26/05