Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 24, 2011

A Conversation Between Illustrators Etienne Delessert and David Macaulay

What a Circus! The Art of Etienne Delessert is showing at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art  until June 5, in celebration of the artist’s seventieth birthday. For the opening reception last weekend, with thanks to the Swiss consulate and arts foundation, Pro Helvetia, we enjoyed Swiss chocolate, creamy or crumbly cheese, wine and hearing Etienne Delessert and David Macaulay
 speak to a packed auditorium.

We learned that Swiss-born Etienne worked on animated films and art for magazines in Lausanne and Paris, and after arriving in New York in 1965, unable to speak much English, two years later published his first book for children, which was a take on Noah’s Ark. Since then he’s illustrated over eighty books for children, and continues working, sometimes in collaboration with his wife, designer Rita Marshall, in the northwest corner of Connecticut, where he settled in 1985.

David Macaulay talked about leaving England with his family as a boy, studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, and while always fascinated, of course, with the way things work and the foundations of great buildings, found himself drawn to children’s books. He admired Etienne’s book, The Endless Party, as well as work by Maurice Sendak and Tomi Ungerer, who, like Etienne, illustrates children’s books as well as drafting political commentary for adults. David thought these guys were having fun making beautiful things. This led him to illustrate a book for children, which took him back to architecture, “which I was trying to leave.”

Etienne specializes in fiction and fantasy, sometimes illustrating several books a year, while David is a master of nonfiction, creating books that may take five or more years to develop. Etienne sometimes takes inspiration from politics and philosophy, while David says his work becomes a refuge from other engagements with the world, while he focuses on a particular and fascinating subject he hopes will open the eyes of children who beginning to see, will question, and thus gain some control over the world. What do these two have in common besides a love of art and amazing techniques?

In 1988, David reviewed one of Etienne Delessert’s books for New York Times. He paid homage to the illustration, but his review included some questions about audience: was this truly a book for children? Etienne Delessert wrote to him thanking him both for the praise and questioining. David admired his confidence and openness to discussion, which brought them together, and they’ve been friends ever since.

It was our joy to hear a bit of how each perceived art and the world.



  1. What a fun evening that must have been! I love listening to other people’s perspectives on art and craft.
    You’re surrounded by awesome talents in your corner of the world, aren’t you? That said, I’m sure other authors/illustrators nod appreciative heads in your direction–as, of course, do I.

  2. Thank you, Melodye! I miss you!

  3. It was a fun evening, the food was good, and it was interesting to hear what each of those guys had to say (especially Etienne’s rant about the recent Caldecott winner), but I kind of wish there had been more dialogue between the two of them, instead of one talking for five minutes, then the other, and so on. Still, well worth going to. — PL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: