Marcia Brown, B.A.’40
Artist and Storyteller
By Carol Olechowski
n an earlier age, Marcia Brown – world traveler, longtime student of Chinese art and calligraphy, music lover, artist in several media – might have been called a Renaissance woman. Anyone who has grown up since the 1940s, however, knows her as a wonderfully gifted storyteller and artist whose books have delighted children of all ages for generations.
After graduating from the New York State College for Teachers, where she studied English and drama, Brown taught high school for three years. The Rochester, N.Y., native later accepted a position in the New York Public Library’s Central Children’s Room, where she honed her storytelling skills. Her works always blend visual art, history and an uncanny ability to appeal to children’s real selves.
Brown’s talents were quickly recognized by critics, as well as by children and their adult counterparts. In 1948, two years after publishing her first book, The Little Carousel, she received Caldecott Honors from the American Library Association (ALA) for Stone Soup. From 1950 through 1954, five more of her works (Henry-Fisherman, Dick Whittington and His Cat, Skipper John’s Cook, Puss in Boots and The Steadfast Tin Soldier) earned the Honor Book designation. In 1955, Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper, brought Brown her first Caldecott Medal, the ALA’s highest award for excellence in children’s picture-book illustrations. The first author to receive the medal three times, she also won for Once a Mouse (1962) and Shadow (1983). The latter, Brown’s favorite among all her works “partially because it is my freest,” involved cut paper, wood and blotted paint techniques. “Shadow was done while I was working chiefly in Chinese painting, with no apparent influence but that of spirit. And I loved the prose poems of Blaise Cendrars, from whose work the text comes,” adds Brown, who likens the creative process to “an early hunter finally ensnaring his prey – an idea haunting one until it is realized to some satisfaction.”
Seventy years after graduating, Brown remains grateful to NYSCT “for the exposure to first-class teachers, and often their friendship.” In appreciation, she presented a valuable collection of art books in French, German, English, Italian, Chinese and Japanese to the University at Albany Libraries, along with funds for its maintenance and interpretation. The Marcia Brown Collection also includes watercolors, pastels, woodcuts, puppets and other creations, as well as her personal papers.
“I cannot imagine not being grateful to one’s university as it has grown through the years, or to the people who gave precious time to young people groping for answers to their existence,” Brown observes. “Agnes Futterer, Harold Thomson, Louis Jones and Edna Wallace were dear, dear friends and guides at a most important part of my life.”