About the Holiday
From the earliest days of the exploration and settlement of America, artists have been creating works that reveal the beauty, complexity, and meaning of this country and her people. Over the years American artists have developed innovative styles and delved into universal subjects in new ways. This month we celebrate these artists of the past and present who, through their work, make us see the world in fresh ways.
Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story
Written by Lindsey McDivitt | Illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen
“Gwen followed her brothers and sisters everywhere, like a small fawn follows its herd.” Even though an illness in babyhood had left her hands and one foot weak and her speech slurred, Gwen grew up confident that she could do anything. Born in 1906, Gwen, as a child with disabilities, would normally have stayed home instead of attending school. But her mother had been a teacher, so she sent her to school and “pushed her to learn.”
The other kids giggled and whispered behind her back, and while she wanted to hide, she instead “gathered up knowledge like a bird builds a nest.” Her teachers thought she would never be able to write. To strengthen her hands, her mother encouraged her to draw, keeping a drawer full of supplies within reach. As Gwen sketched, her grip grew firmer.”
While making friends was difficult, Gwen found companionship in nature. She loved to spend time outdoors watching the unfurling ferns and frogs that “lapped up bugs with long, quick tongues.” From nature, Gwen learned, “‘all things are vital to the universe…all are equal…and at one…different.’”
A move to Detroit when she was twelve introduced Gwen to the buildings and people of a big city. In high school, Gwen, now stronger, took mechanical drawing and shop class. Later, in art school, Gwen was introduced to linoleum, in which she carved intricate images for printmaking. Gwen’s dream was to be an artist, but she also knew she needed to earn money to pay expenses.
She started a business making objects from hammered metal. Word of her art spread quickly. It was bought by leading Detroit families, and Gwen was invited to exhibit her art at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. When World War II broke out, Gwen went to work building bombers. She even designed tools for building the planes. Contributing to the war effort was important, but Gwen still “longed to create art.” She bought a printing press and opened “Presscraft Papers stationery company.”
Gwen began to miss the nature she loved so much, so she packed up and moved back to Michigan. There, “she walked deep into the wetlands” and began carving linoleum blocks, recreating nature as she saw it. “She wanted others to see nature as she did, to recognize the value of plants, trees, and animals.” She made prints from her linoleum blocks and created greeting cards on her press. Her beautiful artwork reminded people of nature’s bounty at a time when the environment was threatened with pollution. People came from all over to her shop in the Michigan woods to buy her art that spoke to them: “‘Love this earth, / Love it’s waters… / Care enough to keep it clear.’”
An Author’s Note reveals more about Gwen Frostic’s life and provides a sketching craft for readers.
Lindsey McDivitt’s superb biography of Gwen Frostic—an artist, inspiration, and pioneer for career women and the disabled—introduces children to a woman who, through persistence and confidence, lived life on her own terms. McDivitt’s lyrical prose infuses the story with the poetry of nature that Gwen internalized and translated into the art that people continue to admire and seek out. McDivitt’s thorough storytelling and excellent pacing allow for a full understanding of Gwen Frostic’s achievements. Young readers will be fascinated by the life work of this talented and determined artist.
Eileen Ryan Ewen captures Gwen Frostic’s strength of character, can-do attitude, and love of nature in her stunning artwork. Full-page illustrations follow Gwen from her beloved Michigan woodlands to Detroit to art school and through her life as an artist and business woman. Images of Gwen carving a linoleum block, sketching designs for new tools as she sits next to a fighter plane and the woman installing rivets, working an old printing press, and greeting visitors at her shop broaden readers’ understanding of the times and Gwen’s work.
An exceptional picture book that provides encouragement and inspiration, Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is a must for classroom libraries and would make a positive impact on young readers as part of their home library.
Ages 6 – 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585364053
Discover more about Lindsey McDivitt and her books on her website.
To learn more about Eileen Ryan Ewen, her art, and her books, visit her website.
American Artist Appreciation Month
Nature Coloring Pages
If you love nature like Gwen Frostic did, you’ll enjoy these printable Nature Coloring Pages.
Meadow Coloring Page | Ocean Coloring Page
You can find Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story at these booksellers
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound
Picture Book Review