Calico elephants and scuba-diving dalmations, trusty sea-horse steeds and a regal leopard with jeweled collar, coming right up!
All this exotic wonderment is brought to you by one talented, creative, hard-working woman. Dahlov Ipcar is nearly 97 years old now. She lives in the same, bright, farmhouse in Maine she’s occupied for about 77 years, drawing and painting still, surrounded by her beautiful, eclectic collection of art, the quiet of the northwoods, and the fresh light streaming in the windows.
Ipcar has been making art since she was a child in New York City, raised by artists in a home saturated with creativity and investigation. One of her early loves was animals. She could spend days observing them at the zoo, as well as in the Natural History Museum or in paintings at the Met. Little wonder that her books team with animals, yet Ipcar’s animals sing with unconventionality!
The Calico Jungle, for example, written in 1965, was inspired by animals as well as the elaborate patchwork quilts she sewed. One of her quilts tells the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Ipcar began to imagine how a young child might be wafted onto a flight of fancy by the creatures sewn onto his quilt. The little boy in this story is given a quilt by his mother, strewn with exotic calico trees and peacocks, wildly patterned giraffes and elephants. Each night as he lies in bed, the boy fingers his quilt, quietly enjoying all the fantastic creatures, until he falls asleep. It’s a quiet story, yet Ipcar’s brilliant, wonder-filled illustrations spark such exciting ideas.
Dahlov’s father was a renowned sculptor. This gorgeous puma is one of his pieces.
I like to think he was an influence in her story, The Marvelous Merry-Go-Round, published in 1970. It’s the story of a woodworker who carves horses for merry-go-rounds. His proud, strong horses fairly prance and toss their manes, and he paints them with colorful, gleaming trappings. No matter how beautiful he makes each horse, though, the village children have one steady preference — the dapple grays. This woodcarver’s imagination is fired by a visiting circus and he begins crafting all manner of merry-go-round beasts, from snarling tigers to a beefy St. Bernard dog. No matter — the children’s favorite is always, always, the dapple gray. Page after page of strong, decorative, thrilling animals for children to admire fill this book. Which one would they choose to ride on?
Dahlov Ipcar’s parents bought the property where she now lives, and as a young girl she spent rustic summers there. When she married her dear Adolph, they chose to live there permanently, chopping wood, living off garden produce, running a dairy, and raising two sons while also working in their field of art. They were married for — listen to this — almost 70 years, until his death at age 98.
Farm life in Maine, mixed with a vivid imagination, resulted in her clever book, Deep Sea Farm, published in 1961. This fellow’s farm is on the sea floor, where a couple of dogfish help him tend a garden of sea cucumbers, and his barn houses sea horses and cow fish. There are tiger sharks and leopard fish to hunt, and gardens of sea anemones. The turquoise, pink, and yellow that dominate this book create a lovely aquatic feel.
Not all of Ipcar’s animals are quite so fantastical, but she certainly knows a lot of them!Her book I Like Animals (1960) is a great treat for young children with an almost catalog sense to it, yet it holds an incredibly array of creatures. This little boy dreams of ways to be near the animals he loves. If he were a zookeeper, for intance, he could ride camels and tend to “bongos and gemsbok and kudus and okapis and all kinds of antelope from the plains of Africa.” When was the last time you saw an okapi in a book for preschoolers, hmm? Check out what you’d encounter at a pet shop, farm, or in the northwoods as well, and think about where you’d rather be.
Dahlov did not pursue a traditional college education. After one semester at Oberlin, she left to explore life and art in her own way. She seems to have dug in with such tremendous curiosity and delight. What an interesting life and person! We get a sense for the far-flung areas of interest she must have from this last book on today’s list, I Love My Anteater with an A, from 1964. I’ll give you just one sample from this zesty alphabet book:
I love my mackeral with an M because he is magnificent. I hate him with an M because he is malicious. His name is Marconi. He comes from Morocco. He lives on macaroni and marmalade, and he manages a meat market.
Each entry follows this same format. Sounds like a great game to make up for yourselves.
I am indebted to two websites in particular for their wonderful stories of Dahlov Ipcar where I learned most everything I’ve told you. You should read their articles for yourself as they are really well done, have photos, and encompass even more fascinating information. Those are linked here and here.
Many of Ipcar’s books are being reprinted just now it seems, and one new title, Farmyard Alphabet, came out just a few years back, so I hope you have some luck finding her work in libraries and bookstores. I believe she has at least 30 titles, in addition to her glorious paintings and murals on display in many museums.