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Andersen Library

August 31, 2015
8:30am - 4:30pm

Charles Mikolaycak: Illustration in an Art Historical and Decorative Arts Context


Written by Edward Leffingwell
Table of Contents:

An Overview
- The Hero of Breman
- Orpheus
- Babushka
- The Man Who Could Call Down Owls
- The Surprising Things Maui Did
- The Boy Who Tried to Cheat Death
- A biographical note


Charles Mikolaycak and Design Motifs
- Bearhead : A Russian Folktale
- Tam Lin : An Old Ballad
- The Rumor of Pavel and Paali: A Ukrainian Folktale
- - Voyages : Poems by Walt Whitman
- The Twelve Clever Brothers and Other Fools: Russian Folk Tales

An overview:


Charles Mikolaycak [Click photo for a larger view]

Charles Mikolaycak (1937-1993) was a book illustrator, designer and sometime teller of stories of a very high order. On occasion he addressed the influence of film and theater on his work. In the transcript of a talk given in 1991 at the Sacramento Literature Symposium, he spoke of his enthusiasm for theater and film and the impact advertisements for movies had on his development as an illustrator. This was a thoughtfully developed talk, and he began by addressing an object of assumed interest to his audience: “Where do the pictures come from?” He acknowledged the text to be illustrated as the first claim to the illustrator’s attention, the ideas that stem from that regard. But he continues to ask why the illustrations come to look the way they do. He acknowledged his interest in the camera’s point of view and the use of image cropping, a photographer’s device. Mikolaycak concluded his talk with the projection of slides of his work interspersed with movie stills, adding with a caveat that his work differed from the movie still. “But the connections are there, and they are real.”

But there is another story to tell: one of the lineage that can be traced through Mikolaycak’s interest in art history and the role that interest played in the expression of his work. He told his audience at Sacramento: “We have centuries of art and art history that document information, style, color and form.” He went on to list Renaissance frescoes, the work of the Impressionists and Expressionists, the moderns and post-moderns, and names as his “fellow illustrators” a list of artists that range from Michelangelo to Wassily Kandinsky, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Howard Pyle, Dean Cornwell, Norman Rockwell, and Arthur Rackham. In such company, Mikolaycak’s work is distinguished by its truth to nature, clarity of line and color, and a convincing and consistently high level of draftsmanship that is as complex as it is modern and legible. The discussion that follows addresses specific art historical sources that appear to have influenced him or served him as a resource in his work: Pieter Bruegel "The Elder", Hippolyte-Jean Flandrin, Paul Gauguin, and Edvard Munch, among others.

A consideration of these sources provides an opportunity to more fully enjoy the complex nature of Mikolaycak’s contribution to the field of illustration, suggesting how an art historical awareness can inform an appreciation of an artist’s work while underscoring the value of visual literacy in its own right. Of additional interest, Mikolaycak demonstrated remarkable familiarity with the practical and decorative arts, including domestic furnishings, carpentry, architecture, woven and embroidered textiles, traditional costumes, and other decorative arts traditions, many of them drawn from the long and rich cultural history of North and Central European cultures. The published works considered here are chronologically arranged beginning with the most recent.

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1993: The Hero of Bremen


Mikolaycak: The Hero of Breman book cover

The composition, costumes and landscape of Pieter Bruegel "The Elder’s" paintings of the 16th century inform Charles Mikolaycak’s illustrations for several books represented in some depth in the Kerlan Collection at the Children’s Literature Research Collections of the University of Minnesota. Among these are watercolor and color pencil drawings applied to Diazo prints made from the original pencil drawings to illustrate Margaret Hodges’ telling of The Hero of Bremen. According to legend, the event described in this story takes place in the year 1032. Although a monumental statue representing the legendary 8th century hero, Roland, stands today in Bremen, Germany and is pictured in this book in ghostly form as well, the proper “hero” of Hodges’ touching tale is a sweet-natured, story-telling young shoemaker, Hans Cobbler. Hodges notes that the hero goes unnamed in German versions of the tale, instead being referred to as a cripple in one and a beggar in another.

Bruegel: "The Beggars"

"Although Mikolaycak’s drawings picture Hans with heartfelt sympathy, the details of clothing and posture may derive from the amputees of Bruegel’s "The Beggars"


Mikolaycak: Colored pencil illustration

Unable to walk, Hans moves about the streets of Bremen on his “knuckles and knees.” Although Mikolaycak’s drawings picture Hans with heartfelt sympathy, the details of clothing and posture may derive from the amputees of Bruegel’s "The Beggars" (1569, Musée du Louvre, Paris), particularly, the central figure. Details of Hans’ costume including cap and homespun shirt are comparable to those of Bruegel’s "The Blind Leading the Blind" (1568, Naples, Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte). Mikolaycak’s townspeople wear shoes, stockings, caps, veils, variations of tunics and jackets, gaiters, bodices and headdresses specific to the period, represented in such paintings as Bruegel’s "Peasant Wedding" (1568, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Mikolaycak portrays the legendary figure of Countess Emma (of Lesum, north of Bremen) and a scheming relation (a nephew, in Hodges’ retelling) who in one illustration brandishes a bird’s-eye view map of the walled town of Brema, picturing its waterways, outlying villages and farms.


Mikolaycak: Colored pencil illustration

"The map is correctly embellished with the coat-of-arms of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, a silver key on a red field."

Mikolaycak’s research into such details is considerable. His map derives from an existing, hand colored map of Brema, c. 1600, the work of George Braun & Franz Hogenberg. [see http://www.earlymaps.com/europe/germany/lsax.htm]. The map is correctly embellished with the coat-of-arms of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, a silver key on a red field. The key is an attribute of Saint Peter, patron of the church of Bremen, and was first represented in 1366, the year of the burning of the city’s original statue of Roland, which was made of wood. (The present sandstone statue, more than 30 feet tall, was dedicated in 1404.) Roland was Charlemagne’s commander on the Breton border in the year 800. He was killed during the Frankish army’s return from the invasion of Spain. Mikolaycak faithfully limns the statue of Roland in a final spread. When the spirit of Roland and his horse appear to the valiant cobbler, Mikolaycak’s rendering of armor is consistent with the articulated armor of the period. He bases his depiction of Roland's cape on the statue at Bremen. He also provides as a frontspiece a detail of Roland's shield that is faithful to the original, which bears Roland's injunction to thank God for the freedom provided to the people of Bremen by Charlemagne and his warrior princes.

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1992: Orpheus

Mikolaycak’s interest in art historical precedents seems evident in his neoclassical design for the front cover of the dust jacket for his retelling and illustration of the hero and musician of Greco-Roman myth, Orpheus, completed in 1991, but published in 1992, the year preceding his death. His illustration closely resembles a 19th-century painting by Hippolyte-Jean Flandrin, "A Young Man Sitting Naked by the Sea" by the Seaside (1855 Musée du Louvre, Paris). In both, a nude figure is seated on rock in profile, his knees drawn up as though for solace or self-protection, a physical language that invites the construction of a narrative. Flandrin himself draws on the neoclassical influence of his predecessor, J.-A.-D. Ingres in a painting, Oedipus and the Sphinx (1805-25, Musée du Louvre). In effect, Mikolaycak has the entire history of classical art for his study, including Bronzino’s Portrait of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’Medici as Orpheus (1537-39, Philadelphia Museum of Art), and the marble Orpheus of Antonio Canova (1770s, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg). The photographs of Baron von Gloeden taken in Sicily c. 1900 also come to mind.

Keenly interested in the long history of his subject, in an afterword to the book, Mikolaycak offers a litany of works by artists who have portrayed aspects of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. They include the dancing Orpheus of Victorian neoclassicist, John Macallan Swan (1896, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, UK), which to some degree recalls Mikolaycak’s opening spread of the narrative. The rest do not: Jean Delville, who depicted the head of Orpheus floating on the water, (1893 in a private collection), and Odilon Redon, who shared interest in that macabre theme (Cleveland Museum of Art, 1903). He also mentions Corot and Poussin, whose paintings are in the landscape tradition, and notes that the sculptor Auguste Rodin made sculptures and drawings on the subject of Orpheus. This book is the very modern Mikolaycak demonstrating his linkage to the Golden Age of Illustrators.


Mikolaycak: Pencil study of cover


Hippolyte-Jean Flandrin: "A Young Man Sitting Naked by the Sea" [Larger image not available]

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1984: Babushka


Mikolaycak: Colored pencil study for cover


Mikolaycak: Colored pencil study


Mikolaycak: Colored pencil study

Throughout his prolific career, Mikolaycak was drawn to fables from the cultures of Central and Eastern Europe. Among them is Babushka: An Old Russian Folktale, “retold” by Mikolaycak in 1984. In the opening spreads, Babushka seems grounded in the denuded trees and snowy village landscape of Bruegel’s "January: The Return of the Hunters" (1565, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). Babushka is retold by Mikolaycak, his interest inspired by an early edition he was given as a child. Historically, Babushka is associated with an Italian story: the legend of La Befana, celebrated on the 6th day of January, the feast day of the Epiphany, from which her name derives. Babushka is also the secular equivalent of Father Christmas, Santa Claus and Kris Kringle.

In his illustrations, Mikolaycak pictures the centuries as they pass from the event of the Three Kings. Like her cognates, Babushka ages but never dies. Babushka’s woven “babushka” shawl with floral decorations, traditional blouse and patterned dress are drawn from traditional Russian designs. The torch-bearing soldiers accompanying the Magi are dressed in medieval coif hoods out of Bruegel and Celtic chainmail tunics and leggings, and the Magi are fancifully dressed. When Babushka takes to the road in pursuit of the Epiphany, she grows old, but never wearies of her search. A street scene includes plus-fours and a calèche, and in another, she enters a New York subway with people costumed in the style of the 1920s (a snap-brim fedora, a cloche hat). She visits modern Prague with a map of the city in hand, and finally, a city with a castle on a hill and tile-roofed houses bristling with television antennas. Mikolaycak’s characteristic generosity in his engagement with the placement of text on the page suits the development of the story. This book is packed with devices designed to indicate the passing of time through a program of cinematic collage.

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1994: The Man Who Could Call Down Owls


Mikolaycak: pencil & colored pencil illustration for cover


Mikolaycak: pencil illustration

"He pictures his apprentice as a singular boy in eyeglasses, cap, scarf, jacket and patched trousers. The costumes are based on a broad sweep of historical models, from the era of Bruegel to post-Soviet Russia."

Mikolaycak illustrated Eve Bunting’s The Man Who Could Call Down Owls more than ten years before J.K. Rowling first published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997). Again, he chooses the wintry, northern landscape of Bruegel’s "Return of the Hunters", a snowy place of barren trees that appears throughout the book, sometimes defining the “gutter” of a two-page spread. The book is conceived in the black-and-white of Mikolaycak’s pencil drawings. The title figure, a kindly healer of ailing owls, wears a broad-brimmed hat, voluminous cape and buckled shoes. He pictures his apprentice as a single boy in eyeglasses, cap, scarf, jacket and patched trousers. The costumes are based on a broad sweep of historical models, from the era of Bruegel to post-Soviet Russia. A villager sports a visored uniform cap and a greatcoat with epaulets. Two village women wear long, full skirts, one capped with a bonnet, the other warmed by a babushka. The furnishings of the healer’s owl infirmary include a carefully observed worktable with dowel pegs and dovetail joints. The drawn owls are faithful to their models: a barn owl with a white face like an open walnut, an elf owl, a great horned owl and a hawk owl. The evil stranger who seeks to usurp the healer’s power wears a collage of costumes, including rosette-patterned, tie-dyed trousers with a whipstitched codpiece, a herringbone jacket, gloves with pointed metal studs, a sash of chain link and an earring. The overall effect of narrative and illustration places both story and reader in a world of opposite forces, of good and evil, where good may prevail.


Bruegel: "Return of the Hunters"


Mikolaycak: pencil illustration

"Two village women wear long, full skirts, one capped with a bonnet, the other warmed by a babushka."

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1979: The Surprising Things Maui Did

Mikolaycak transposes the lush style, clear line and bold color of Paul Gauguin from Tahiti to Hawaii for The Surprising Things Maui Did (1979), a myth of the creation of the island of Maui as told by Jay Williams. The hero of the story, Maui, takes his leisure while his brothers cast nets for fish. He drums birds and their songs onto the island, lengthens the days, makes them warm, and learns the secret for making fire. The cover is banded by the figure of Maui spinning on a starry arc of rainbow with an exotic bird, the ocean’s surf, and in the foreground, the red bracts of anthuriums. A woman dressed in a sarong appears in profile in the upper left corner of the initial double-page spread, sheltered within the embrace of a waterfall, cradling the infant Maui in her hands. Mikolaycak’s illustrations recall Gauguin’s graceful, simplified depiction of the body in Two Tahitian Women (1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art) and the panoramic allegory of Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Perhaps to simulate the rustic sackcloth Gauguin used as support for his paintings, Mikolaycak consistently employs a regular, corrugated patterning that serves as a shading device and suggests the sensual solidity of the figure and tropical landscape. The corrugation reappears in a wash of white accent on the cresting waves. Maui wears a white sarong, and one of his brothers wears a red sarong with a pattern of plumeria, the lei flower. Birds, palm fronds and vines are treated with the same fanciful enjoyment of color and line. In one spread, Maui swims, accompanied by colorful tropical fish in art nouveau ribbons and swirling abstractions of wind and surf. Each of the elements of the creation myth are introduced by recurrent, grisaille vignettes of sky, water, palm branches, the blossoms of the datura or trumpet flower, and plumeria. The final spread is a cumulative arrangement of tropical fish, flowers, birds, a shell, and the surf. Maui appears for the last time, his head crowned by a map of the island that bears his name.


"The final spread is a cumulative arrangement of tropical fish, flowers, birds, a shell,and the surf. Maui appears for the last time, his head crowned by a map of the island that bears his name." Gauguin’s Two Tahitian Women


Mikolaycak: colored pencil & pencil illustration for cover


Mikolaycak: colored pencil & pencil illustration

"The hero of the story, Maui takes his leisure while his brothers cast nets for fish."


Mikolaycak: colored pencil & pencil illustration

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1971: The Boy Who Tried to Cheat Death


Mikolaycak: Cover illustration

"A somber subject for the reader, young or old, on the book’s dusk jacket, the Boy of the title appears as a bearded young man shadowed by the personification of Death."


Mikolaycak: Oil glaze and pencil illustration

"The swirling, decorative elements of Mikolaycak’s landscape and sky, the depiction of a bridge, and a reiterated theme of the deathbed watch recall similar passages in the work of Norwegian symbolist painter and print-maker Edvard Munch (1863-1944)."


Edvard Munch: "The Scream"

"A roadway and bridge tilting up through a receding landscape under the whorls of sky recall the sweeping compositions and wood-railed bridges that figure various Munch landscapes, including "The Scream" (1893, Munch Museum, Oslo)."

 

During Charles Mikolaycak’s tenure as a book designer for Time-Life Books, he and his wife Carole Kismaric published their first collaborative effort in 1971. The Boy Who Tried to Cheat Death is a variation on the Faustian theme of the consequences of an ambitious young man’s pact with Death, adapted from a Norwegian folk tale collected by Peter Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. Mikolaycak represents the youth of the title and most other characters in an abstracted but realistic manner. The swirling, decorative elements of Mikolaycak’s landscape and sky, the depiction of a bridge, and a reiterated theme of the deathbed watch recall similar passages in the work of Norwegian symbolist painter and print-maker Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Munch himself had been affected by the Fauvists and Art Nouveau and Jugend styles, and consonant with the theme Mikolaycak develops, Munch often portrayed suffering, sickness, and death.

A somber subject for the reader, young or old, on the book’s dust jacket, the Boy of the title appears as a bearded young man shadowed by the personification of Death. Mikolaycak introduces several motifs here adapted from Munch. One is a kind of Art Nouveau aura that follows and joins the contours of figures and elsewhere formally echoes the branches of a tree and the tendrils of a young woman’s hair as she reclines on her death bed. Throughout, the Boy and Death are bound together by variations of the motif, representing their fatal compact. In Munch, the aura appears in the painting, "Madonna" (1894-5) and a related lithograph, and in "The Dance of Life" (1899-1900, both in the collection of the National Gallery, Oslo). If Munch suggests that the moiré patterns of the night skies are an abstraction of the aurora borealis, Mikolaycak elsewhere nominates a factory’s smokestacks as the source. He imagines a landscape that draws on that of Munch. A roadway and bridge tilting up through a receding landscape under the whorls of sky recall the sweeping compositions and wood-railed bridges that figure various Munch landscapes, including "The Scream" (1893, Munch Museum, Oslo).

Mikolaycak’s direct quotation of an image rehearsed by Munch ties them more closely together: the presence of a full moon close to the horizon, reflected in a body of water like an ideogram for Norway. Mikolaycak rehearses Munch’s near calligraphic motif on the book’s dust cover and again in a dramatic, double-page spread that focuses on the boy and Death seated before a simple church in a graveyard populated by marble slabs and crosses. In Munch, the ideograph occurs in "The Dance of Life," where a brilliant moon hovers over water, reflected in a vertical path concluding in a few lozenges of rippling light. It appears again in precisely the same manner in "The Mystery of a Summer Night" (1892, National Gallery, Oslo), again in "The Dance on the Shore" (1900-02), in a drypoint, "The Women," (1895), and in a colored woodcut, "Two Human Beings. The Lonely Ones" (1899, Munch Museum, Oslo). The full moon is said to be a favorable omen for lovers and hunters, especially in the near endless light of a Norway summer when the full moon hangs low on the horizon, creating a lunar twilight. In the long, dark winter, a full moon can also dominate the display of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.

Edvard

Charles Mikolaycak’s keen eye and prodigious talent served him well through the decades of a distinguished career. This investigation intends a greater appreciation of the depth and pleasure of his labor, and a means to a deeper consideration of the spectrum of his work in full.

- Written by Edward Leffingwell

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A biographical note:

Charles Mikolaycak was born in 1937 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Best known as an illustrator of children’s books, at an early age he demonstrated considerable artistic promise, and was encouraged by his parents to pursue his interest in art. In the process, he also developed a lifelong interest in theater and film, and appreciated the resources of popular culture and the picture press. While a student at Pratt Institute in New York City, Mikolaycak studied with the German-born American book illustrator and print maker, Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990), who became his mentor. After graduating from Pratt in 1958, Mikolaycak briefly attended New York University. In 1960 he left for Germany where he worked briefly as an illustrator and designer in the Hamburg studio of Dudley DuCrot. He was inducted into the army and spent twp years at the Pentagon as a draftsman and designer. He subsequently worked at Time-Life Books for 13 years, during which time he met and married Carole Kismaric, then a Time-Life pictures editor. He left Time-Life to work from his studio as an independent illustrator of children’s books. Charles Mikolaycak died in Manhattan in 1993. His wife and sometime collaborator, Carole Kismaric, died in 2002.

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Charles Mikolaycak and Design Motifs

See “Clothing of Aukštaitija” by Terese Jurkuviene in Anthology of Lithuanian Ethnoculture, an internet publication © Society of Lithuanian Ethnoculture. http://ausis.gf.vu.lt/eka/.

1991: Bearhead : A Russian Folktale


Mikolaycak: Jacket cover for Bearhead
Charles Mikolaycak’s Ukrainian and Polish heritage served as a continuing source of inspiration to him. His illustrations of Central European folkloric costumes, decorative devices and the landscape itself can be traced to his abiding interest in his own Central and East European cultural history, but historically accurate depictions of costume and design seems a hallmark of his oeuvre. In 1991, Mikolaycak illustrated Eric Kimmel’s fable, Bearhead : A Russian Folktale, using pencil, colored pencil and water color. In these handsome illustrations, the device of a solid red line outlined by thin black lines recalls the agitated thin red line defining the perimeters of his illustrations for Babushka. The book is filled with disparate allusions, including individual spreads ornamented with geometric and folkloric patterns. A tiled tray decorated with a pattern that resembles Royal Copenhagen china also appears in Mikolaycak’s illustration for "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast" (1977) for the story, I Saddled My Unicorn. Mikolaycak adds a newspaper banner in Russian. The loveable Bearhead sports a military cap of green cloth and leather brim ornamented with the Soviet red star. The goblin who appears with the body of an eel and the arms and head of a frog wears a hat that seems intended as an aside to the “Cat in the Hat” topper of Dr. Seuss. Mikolaycak offers a vignette as a frontispiece that is a silhouette of Bearhead on a red disk, a red star badge at its center, placed on a field of pine branches. The emblem seems to draw on the iconic image of Che Guevera.


Mikolaycak: pencil, color pencil and watercolor illustration

"Mikolaycak adds a newspaper banner in Russian. The loveable Bearhead sports a military cap of green cloth and leather brim ornamented with the Soviet red star."


Mikolaycak: pencil, color pencil and watercolor illustration

"The goblin who appears with the body of an eel and the arms and head of a frog wears a hat that seems intended as an aside to the “Cat in the Hat” topper of Dr. Seuss."

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1990: Tam Lin : An Old Ballad


Mikolaycak: pencil and color pencil illustration for cover

"Mikolaycak follows Jane Yolen’s cues in the selection of his palette: green for the camouflage of Jennet’s cape, and red for the rose that is emblematic of the heart . . . On the front cover, the lovers are swathed in tartans against a full-blown rose."


Mikolaycak: pencil and color pencil illustration

"A single-page illustration shows a frog and a snake emerging from an undergrowth of briars, and there are grass-green borders around the illustrations as a framing device. The ruined castle is in the distance."

The complex iconography of Mikolaycak’s illustrations for Jane Yolen’s revisiting of Tam Lin : An Old Ballad (1990) ornament one of his most highly regarded collaborations. Briefly, the story: on her sixteenth birthday, Jennet MacKenzie, a beautiful Scottish girl, swears to reclaim her family seat, an abandoned castle held for generations by the fairies. On the way she encounters Tam Lin, a handsome young man who was the childhood friend of her great-grandfather, who has been held suspended in time as a prisoner of the faerie queen. Only love can save him, and on the Halloween following Jennet MacKenzie’s birthday she challenges the forces of evil and saves Tam Lin.

Mikolaycak follows Jane Yolen’s cues in the selection of his palette: green for the camouflage of Jennet’s cape and red for the rose that is emblematic of the heart. On the cover is a vignette of a briar branch (the rose) and on one twig two gold rings entwined. On the front cover, the lovers are swathed in tartans against a full-blown rose. Facing the dedication page is a red rose on a thorny stem, just opening. A single-page illustration shows a frog and a snake emerging from an undergrowth of briars, and there are grass-green borders around the illustrations as a framing device. The ruined castle is in the distance. A single red rose appears when Jennet meets Tam Lin in his tartan of black and white. Mikolaycak orchestrates a careful interplay of color, form and text. When Jennet returns she wears a mantle of green over a blood-red skirt and bodice so that the faeries won’t see her. Tam Lin turns into a serpentine creature with gray-green scales that seem to emerge from his tartan, but then becomes a lion. Jennet bests the queen. Tam Lin’s clothing has been burned away. She covers his nakedness with her costume. At the end, Tam Lin’s black and white tartan is now embedded with a plaid pattern derived from the “MacKenzie” plaid, the lovers surrounded by roses in bloom.

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1988: The Rumor of Pavel and Paali: A Ukrainian Folktale

Carole Kismaric provides the retelling of The Rumor of Pavel and Paali: A Ukrainian Folktale which Mikolaycak dedicated to his twin brother, John, Jr. who died in the spring of 1937 several months after their birth. Throughout this handsomely illustrated, episodic and violent tale of a good man’s debasement at the hands of an evil twin, and the good twin’s eventual triumph over evil, Mikolaycak integrates the geometric abstractions of textiles into the fabric of his illustrations. His design of the title spread and the dedication page suggest the decorative elements of Gustav Klimt, attributable to their shared attraction to similar sources. Each of the story’s episodic blocks is framed in black and bordered at one or both edges with a multi-patterned strip or banner and dother period details, including a newspaper in Cyrillic type, a device also used in Bearhead : A Russian Folktale. Banners of clouds appear throughout the daytime spreads, above a landscape distinguished by the architecture of the houses, the pine trees and other details.

The evil Pavel dons decorated riding boots, while Paali wears gaiters and slippers made of rush. The jumble of household objects is an inventory of the time: patched embroidered and woven linens, an Orthodox icon of the Madonna, an adz and a hoe, a copper vessel, side chairs, the poor things of Paali. Pavel’s relative wealth is communicated through an inventory of rich things: a decanter, upholstered side chairs, elaborate candlesticks. The blinded Paali is reduced to begging by a large fir tree at the crossroads, eyes bandaged. A carpenter goes by toting boards, carrying a satchel filled with carpenter’s pencils, a mallet, a ruler, some string, a T-square, a saw. In a later spread, the figures echo the heroic, smiling figures of Soviet Realism, and in the following spread, Mikolaycak faithfully rendered but abstracted the murals of the ceiling of a church. When Paali receives the gifts of his neighbors, Mikolaycak took the opportunity to depict a complex inventory of goods, including glass tumblers and cups, a copper kettle, a bottle, and a samovar, recalling the household inventory of Bearhead : A Russian Folktale.


Mikolaycak: pencil and color pencil illustration for cover


Mikolaycak: pencil study

"The evil Pavel dons decorated riding boots, while Paali wears gaiters and slippers made of rush. The jumble of household objects is an inventory of the time: patched embroidered and woven linens, an Orthodox icon of the Madonna, an adz and a hoe, a copper vessel, side chairs, the poor things of Paali. Pavel’s relative wealth is communicated through an inventory of rich things: a decanter, upholstered side chairs, elaborate candlesticks."


Mikolaycak: pencil and color pencil illustration

"The blinded Paali is reduced to begging by a large fir tree at the crossroads, eyes bandaged. A carpenter goes by toting boards, carrying a satchel filled with carpenter’s pencils, a mallet, a ruler, some string, a T-square, a saw."

 

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ca. 1988: Voyages : Poems by Walt Whitman


Mikolaycak: pencil illustration for cover


Mikolaycak: pencil illustration

Fritz Eichenberg: cover illustration for Rainbows are Made: Poems by Carl Sandburg

These poems were selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Mikolaycak pictures Whitman’s lyrical line, “out of the cradle endlessly rocking,” with a youth standing, rocked by an old woman in a bonnet through the feathered troughs of the sea like a surfer. He is adorned with the attributes of his early trades: the hammer and saw of the carpenter, a newspaper just visible in a satchel that also contains a T-square. The sky at sun down is enlivened with the abstracted stars and stripes of the American flag, derived from Frederic Edwin Church’s Mountain Landscape (Our Banner in the Sky) (circa 1861, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco). Throughout, Mikolaycak ornaments this book with oval vignettes consisting of various emblems in the manner of woodcuts: a cannon firing, blocks of single letters for typesetting, a cluster of lilacs – some of them more arcane, all with the striated lines passing horizontally through that intend a reference to woodcuts. This book seems a visual homage to Mikolaycak’s teacher and mentor, the illustrator Fritz Eichenberg, who in 1982 illustrated Rainbows Are Made : Poems by Carl Sandburg.

"He is adorned with the attributes of his early trades: the hammer and saw of the carpenter, a newspaper just visible in a satchel that also contains a T-square. The sky at sun down is enlivened with the abstracted stars and stripes of the American flag, derived from Frederic Edwin Church’s Mountain Landscape (Our Banner in the Sky) (circa 1861, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)."
Frederic Edwin Church: Our Banner in the Sky

 

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1979: The Twelve Clever Brothers and Other Fools: Russian Folk Tales

Mikolaycak’s drawings for Mirra Ginsburg’s The Twelve Clever Brothers and Other Fools: Russian Folk Tales (1979) are in pencil with an abstract, folkloric border in red that runs throughout. [A version of such borders appears as a running band along the top of the text pages of Sister of the Birds and Other Gypsy Tales (1976) and Nine Crying Dolls (1980). Their geometric, pick-up, red-weave patterns have been found in the region since the Stone Age. Due to the cultural influence of the Slavic peoples, cross stitching and other simple stitches, usually in red and black or white and black, proliferated, and the apron became the most important element of the Lithuanian peasant woman's costume. It was considered improper to appear in public without one

Mikolaycak’s interpretations of traditional costumes for The Twelve Clever Brothers are vividly patterned and often imagined as roughly patched, solids on checks, dots and traditional Slavic plaids on stripes. He lines traditional folkloric shirts with patterned embroidery trimming the cuffs and neck, the places where the decorative patterns might be seen from underneath a jacket. Each brief tale is introduced by a drawing of great detail appropriate to the text.


Mikolaycak: pencil illustration for cover


Mikolaycak: pencil illustration

"He lines traditional folkloric shirts with patterned embroidery trimming the cuffs and neck, the places where the decorative patterns might be seen from underneath a jacket. Each brief tale is introduced by a drawing of great detail appropriate to the text."

- Written by Edward Leffingwell

The Charles Mikolaycak / CLRC website is courtesy of the Carole Kismaric bequest.
Permission for reproduction of studies from the executor of the estate.

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