Book Review: Charley Harper by Todd Oldham

Charley Harper was an American illustrator whose style is so evocative  of Mid-century Modern goodness that when this book came in the mail and I opened it to start reading and browsing through it’s many, many amazing pictures I couldn’t help but feel good.

Charley Harper is a feel good artist.

Yes. That says it all I think.

One of the first pictures in Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life is one of Charley Harper with his wife and son. He’s an old man, with a walker cane. His wife is glorious in pink, and one thing stands out. This man looks happy. He looks like a man who spent his life doing something that was pleasing to himself and the world. Yes, I know that is reading a lot into a picture in a book, but I can’t help thinking when I look at that picture that at the end of my life I want there to be a picture of me and my family where I look that happy.

It’s that sense of joy that beams from his portrait that also shines like a beacon through his illustrations. He’s famous for his birds, and other nature-inspired illustrations.

But he also illustrated books, such as the The Giant Golden Book of Biology and Betty Crocker’s Dinner For Two. In that cookbook, he was commissioned to illustrate the 1950s version of a happy housewife. Each of those happy housewife pictures tickles me right to my toes.

If you can tear your eyes from the stunning pictures, there is lots of great information in this book as well. The story of how designer Todd Oldham first found and fell in love with Charley Harper’s work, and how he ended up putting this book together (it’s obviously a labor of love.) An interview with the artist that feels like two friends talking.

But mostly? This is a catalog of a man’s life’s work. Charley Harper’s love for his art is tangible on every page. It completely lacks pretension, which means (to me anyway) that rather than removing the viewer from the art it draws her in. It makes her see his clean lines and minimalist style with inspiration rather than awe once removed.

Really, there isn’t much more I can say. Except that I’m so happy that someone took the time to catalog Charley Harper’s work–and let it stand on it’s own in this book. After the first few pages, the illustrations are allowed to sing from the pages without words.

I’ll admit to being in love with Charley Harper’s art. The publisher sent me this book to review for you, and I’m so grateful. My opinion of the book was not colored by how it came to me. The full-size coffee table version of this book is pricey, but the link above is to a version that is a little smaller (but still good-sized at 12X8.5) that is considerably less expensive and worth every penny.

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