Fletcher and the Knobby Boys: Illustrations by Harry Devlin Spotlights Animal Characters Who Work Together to Help Friends in Need

August 19, 2016

 

They Get by with a Little Help from Their Friends: Illustrations of Fletcher and the Knobby Boys by Harry Devlin on View at the Zimmerli

 

New Brunswick, NJ – Beloved characters Fletcher and the Knobby Boys charmingly remind viewers about childhood lessons that remain relevant no matter one’s age: the value of teamwork and lending a hand (or paw) when others face tough dilemmas. In celebration of Rutgers University’s 250th anniversary and the Zimmerli Art Museum’s 50th year, the new exhibition Fletcher and the Knobby Boys: Illustrations by Harry Devlin spotlights artwork from two early stories by the New Jersey artist, who also was an instrumental figure in developing the university’s resources related to children’s literature. The 27 watercolor illustrations on view provide a rare opportunity for visitors to examine Devlin’s original vision, with details of his technique in vivid color that are not always obvious in the books, which were produced in black and white or minimal, muted tones.

 

“Working with his wife Wende, Harry Devlin created The Knobby Boys to the Rescue in 1965 and How Fletcher Was Hatched in 1969 for children who loved picture books but were ready for longer and more complex stories,” notes Christine Giviskos, the museum’s Curator of Prints, Drawings, and European Art. “These imaginative tales explore common childhood fears and emotions through animal characters who form unusual friendships and work together to help friends through sad and scary situations, to which young readers can relate.”

 

Wonderful details can be seen in Devlin’s original hand-drawn illustrations that are not apparent in the mass-produced books, which also are much smaller than the original artwork on view. The scenes focus on key moments in each narrative, emphasizing the strength of visual elements in storytelling when youngsters are learning how to read. In both books, characters feel abandoned by family. The dog Fletcher feels neglected when his previously attentive human companion, a girl named Alexandra, becomes distracted by newly hatched chicks on the farm. When Baby Bear is crying alone in the woods, three pals who call themselves the Knobby Boys – Raccoon, Fox, and Crow – immediately step up to care for the cub and search for his mother, who has disappeared. As the characters embark on journeys to reconnect with their loved ones, their dynamic actions and emotions are stronger than words: Fletcher’s sadness as he seeks advice from friends Beaver and Otter; the Knobby Boys’ frantic food collection for the growing Baby Bear; and the joy when both tales culminate in embracing reunions.

 

Devlin’s meticulous attention to landscapes, light, and atmosphere details the passage of time in each story. Fletcher takes place within a 24-hour period: the night scenes Beaver and Otter, nestling close to their great egg… and Inside the egg, feeling very homesick, Fletcher wondered if Alexandra was thinking of him capture the anticipation of the characters’ plot for Fletcher to win back Alexandra’s affection the following day. The Knobby Boys stretches over several weeks, with subtle changes in the background depicting the change of seasons. From the autumn bounty in So the Knobby Boys went off in all directions and, in time, came back with berries, honey, and a small fish to the bears’ winter hibernation in Silent snowflakes fell outside, viewers get a sense of the exhausting adventure these intrepid animals experienced.

 

Harry Devlin (1918-2001) enjoyed a prolific and successful career as an artist, illustrator, and cartoonist. Born in Jersey City and working primarily in Mountainside, he established his artistic career as a cartoonist for the weekly magazines Collier’s and Saturday Home News during the 1940s. He and his wife Dorothy Wende (1918-2002), a painter and writer, first collaborated on the comic strip Fullhouse (later renamed Ragamopp). Based on the antics of their seven children, it ran from 1954 to 1957. Its success prompted the Devlins to begin creating storybooks, written by Wende and illustrated by Harry, in the early 1960s. Ultimately, the couple published 26 children’s books, many of which are still in print.

 

While the Devlins’ books often are cited among the public’s favorites from childhood, the couple’s legacy extends beyond their creative endeavors. In 1971, Harry Devlin joined the newly established Rutgers Advisory Committee on Children’s Literature. Later renamed the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature, the organization continues to provide professional guidance for aspiring writers and illustrators of children's and young adult books, as well as valuable research resources for scholars. In 1988, Harry and Wende Devlin donated more than 100 of Harry’s original drawings to the Zimmerli, an important contribution in the museum’s development of its renowned collections of American works on paper and children’s book illustrations. 

 

Fletcher and the Knobby Boys: Illustrations by Harry Devlin was organized by Christine Giviskos, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and European Art. All works are gifts of Wende and Harry Devlin. The exhibition, on view through June 25, 2017, is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. To schedule a class or group tour Tuesday through Sunday, please contact the Education Department (education@zimmerli.rutgers.edu) at least two weeks in advance.

 

ZIMMERLI ART MUSEUM|RUTGERS

The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.

 

VISITOR INFORMATION

Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.

 

The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and select first Tuesdays of the month, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.

 

PaparazZi Café is open Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items. The café is closed weekends and major holidays, as well as the months of July and August.

 

For more information, visit the museum’s website www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu or call 848.932.7237.

 

SUPPORT

The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts and the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono; and donors, members, and friends of the museum.

 

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