“Vividly brings to life the childhood of noted American painter Benjamin West (1738–1820) . . . giving equal emphasis to his singular passion for art and to the qualities he has in common with readers.” Publishers Weekly, Starred
Based on the autobiographical writings of colonial artist Benjamin West, this story introduces young Benjamin, who began drawing at the age of seven, using a forbidden tool: his papa's goose quill pen. Scolded for that offense, but praised for the excellent likeness of his baby niece, Benjamin continues to make pictures. Friendly Indians show him how to make paint, his cat unwillingly contributes fur for brushes, and his parents send him, at the age of nine, to learn from an artist in Philadelphia. Each page of West's story faces a painting with simplified forms, subdued colors, and pleasing composition. Naive in style and reminiscent of some colonial art, the illustrations present clear visual expressions of the activities and emotions related in the story. The last pages include a summary of West's adult life, small reproductions of three of his paintings, suggestions for where to see his work, and brief source notes for this book. A fascinating look at art in colonial times, and a likable portrait of the artist as a young boy.
Sept. 15, 1999 Booklist, ALA
This brief picture-book biography of Benjamin West, "the father of American art," has an informing theme that unifies text and illustration into a seamless whole. That theme is set in the brief prologue, which introduces the large West family and notes that when Benjamin was born in 1738, ten children, the preacher prophesied that "this boy will do great things someday." From that day forward, Brenner tells us, "everyone kept...waiting for the first signs of greatness." They did not have long to wait, for at age seven Benjamin, with no formal lessons, made an accomplished drawing of his sister's baby. Subsequently, he learned to make paint from a member of the friendly Lenape tribe and a paintbrush from a traveler staying at the inn. With admirable ingenuity, he fashioned the latter from the fur of his cat Grimalkin, who was not too enthused about his role as artist's assistant. Eventually, the cat's mangy appearance led to discovery-and to his parents' decision to send him to a "real live artist" for an assessment of his work. That decision changed his life. In the succeeding chapter, "And Then What Happened," the author neatly summarizes West's subsequent career, his education, his success as a portrait painter, his friendship with Benjamin Franklin, and his life as an expatriate in England, where, despite his friendship with George III, he remained loyal to the American cause during the Revolution. The choice of subject, the emphasis on West's early years, and the careful selection of childlike incidents such as the cat's unwilling involvement all make this biography appropriate as a picture-book treatment and appealing for the intended audience. The result is a handsome interpretation, faithful to its subject, lively to read, distinctively colonial in pictorial content, and cast in a well-designed format with simple two-line black borders framing an appropriate typeface and flattened, angular illustrations.
A folk-art quality infuses Dunrea's clean-lined and pleasing gouache illustrations for this highly appealing biography from Brenner (The Earth is Painted Green, 1994, etc.) on the childhood of America's first world-famous artist, Benjamin West. Later in life, West would enjoy the patronage of King George III and friendships with men such as Benjamin Franklin, but the boy growing up on a Pennsylvania farm in the tag end of a family of ten showed few signs of what he would become. Three chapters relate pivotal moments in West's boyhood; in the first, Benjamin is given the duty of rocking the cradle and flapping the flies away from a baby, but is seized by an intense desire to draw the child instead, resulting in an astonishingly recognizable drawing. A nicely executed section, ``And Then What Happened?'' collapses the rest of an illustrious career into two spreads, one of which provides some of the artist's paintings, including his first, Landscape with Cow. A concluding spread simply and briefly provides bibliographic data. The glimpses of the artist's development in this handsome book provides may be apocryphal autobiography from West himself (Brenner bases her incidents on his account of his childhood), but the charm and innocence of his delinquencies will attract readers. Kirkus Reviews