ike the many thousands of British children who, like me, grew up reading Ladybird Books in the 1970s—and the decade either side of this—can doubtless recall a certain fascination with at least one Ladybird title. For me it was the beautifully realistic and slightly unnerving illustrations by Robert Lumley for The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Like many Ladybird titles the illustrations were engrossing. They were images to be pored over, and as such many remain as indelible memories.
Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion is exhibiting ‘Ladybird by Design’. Containing some 200 original artworks the exhibition is a testament to Ladybird’s commitment to publishing illustrations of the highest quality; images that would help with learning by being both descriptive and well made. They are realistic yet somehow convey so much more than any photograph might. Yes, the content often depicted a somewhat idealised view of the world, and it is easy to criticise some of the content for being being middle class and for having very gender specified roles, but judging by the stream of visitors that I have seen on my visits the exhibition it’s easy to see that these books are held in firm affection by the nation. Of course, I say that with some bias as one of the many who associates these books with part of my childhood. Seeing these illustrations again, and in the context of having trained as an illustrator and now teaching the graphic arts made me appreciate these wonderful books and their images more than ever. It perhaps also suggests that illustration, often viewed as a lower art form, can rival the interest generated by many ‘fine’ art collections. The exhibition runs until May 10th.