Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Art of Charlot Byj

Rediscovering the artwork of Charlot Byj was like visiting an old friend. Remembering these images from childhood, I was delighted to find that reproductions of these 1950s-style coloring books were available. One of the ladies who shops at Grandma's Attic told me that she recently cleaned out her aunt's estate and discovered three of the Blue Bonnet coloring books shown here. They were dated 1949, 1950 and 1951. She said that the originals are much larger than the reproductions we carry.

The inside of each of these coloring books, including Beginners Coloring Book, looks exactly like a coloring book you would recall from childhood. There are 32 pages of black and white drawings. The artwork on the cover is what caught my attention, and I began to wonder about the artist.

Fortunately, Charlot Byj signed her name on these paintings, although at first I thought it was spelled Charlot Byi. (Either way, her name is pronounced "Bye".) She began her art career by drawing greeting cards, posters, and other types of advertising in the 1940s. The story goes that one day, after art school in New York City where she lived, she ducked into the doorway of a greeting card shop to escape the rain. Admiring the card line in the window, she noted the name of the publisher and called for an interview. The publisher hired her and she began creating greeting cards that featured redheaded children. Shabby O'Hair, his sister Raggy Muffin, and their plump mother M'Lady O'Hair were among the redheads that became her trademark.

Franz Goebel of the W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik company, noticed her work and invited her to his German production facility. Working alongside master sculptor Arthur Moeller, Charlot began designing Hummel figurines. The first one, called "Strike," was produced in 1957. She also helped create "The Roving Eye," "Oops," and "Little Miss Coy".

Between 1957 and 1988, when the series was discontinued, more than 100 different Hummel figurines were created. The figurines featured both red- and blonde-haired children. The redheads were known as mischievous characters. The blondes were portrayed as more serene. Today, Hummel figurines are sought after by collectors all over the world. In addition to figurines, Charlot's characters were also produced as annual baby and Christmas ornaments; a series of decorative plates, art prints, dolls in different sizes, and music boxes with figurines as the center piece. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Charlot Byj images were very popular. If they look familiar to you, you probably remember them from this time period.

Little Miss Christmas and Santa is the name of another coloring book. I originally attributed this coloring book to Charlot Byj as well; however, further research indicates that this coloring book was  created by Elizabeth Anne Voss, also known as Elizabeth Gartrell. You can read about her story and coloring book here. Popular in the 1960s, Little Miss Christmas is obviously a blonde. I suppose that means she was more serene and not so mischievous. (After all, every one knows you have to be a "good girl" at Christmas time.) And just as a matter of confession, my own dear Grandmother was a carrot-top redhead. Believe me, she was mighty mischievous for the times in which she lived! This coloring book consists of 32 pages of Christmas-related scenes.

All three of these coloring books are for sale at Grandma's Attic. In case you think I've lost my mind in all this nostalgia and wonder why we carry coloring books at the shop, I'll tell you coloring books of all kinds can be a great source of inspiration for quilters, crafters, scrapbookers, and grandmothers. You can use them as stencils, for embroidery work, and to create vignettes for scrapbooks. Then again, they're also perfect for keeping children busy and happy. Think of all the "artwork" you can display on the refrigerator!

In addition to Hummel figurines, Charlot Byi illustrated books and created art prints. The Shiniest Star, a reproduction pop-up book illustrated by Charlot Byj, is currently available at Grandma's Attic.

According to the information I have on Charlot Byj, she lived in New York City. She was considered by those who knew her as a "caring and sincere" person. After Charlot became ill in the 1980s, she cut back on her design work. On August 7, 1983, she passed away.

That's pretty much everything I know about Charlot Byj. If you have more information related to her, I hope you will share it with us.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Quilt Market and the Houston Zoo

After spending four days at International Quilt Market in Houston, I felt like I had been to a zoo. Quilts and fabric were everywhere. Tons to look at, loads of walking, and lots of information to try to absorb. Before heading back to Oregon, Amber and I decided to take a little break and visit a different kind of zoo--The Houston Zoo. And what do you know? Even this sweet little orangutan was holding a quilt!

Speaking of orangutans, did you know that the experts believe that orangutans are so endangered, they will become extinct in the wild over the next ten years? Orangutans are our closest relatives. We share about 97 percent of our DNA with them. Originally, it is estimated that 300,000 orangutans lived throughout Southeast Asia. Today, there are only small pockets of them in the wild on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. But as the rainforest is destroyed through logging and palm oil production, their numbers are dwindling fast. In the past 20 years, over 80% of their habitat has been destroyed. With information like that, I'd be hugging a quilt too!

Other highlights at this zoo included a brand new baby Asian elephant named Tupelo, a couple of bears named Boomer and Bailey, some Opaki, a lion named Jonathan, and an amazing assortment of all kinds of other animals including a giraffe, an assortment of primates, sea lions, birds, aquarium animals, reptiles, amphibians--you name it. The weather was 88 degrees with 90% humidity. It was an amazingly wonderful diversion from all the strategic planning we're up to for 2011.