Sunday, June 10, 2018

Q&A with James Campbell

James Campbell is the author of the new book The Art of Winnie-the-Pooh: How E.H. Shepard Illustrated an Icon. He has worked for various environmental organizations. Campbell is married to E.H. Shepard's great-granddaughter, and is responsible for overseeing Shepard's literary and artistic estate. He lives in Oxford, England.

Q: How would you describe the partnership between E.H. Shepard and A.A. Milne?

A: It was a professional working relationship, but an unusually long and harmonious one. They started working collaboratively in 1923, and continued to do so until Milne’s death more than 30 years later. 

It was unusual in that Shepard was involved from the very start in the process of creating the books, meeting Milne regularly, sometimes weekly, to discuss both the text and the illustrations, and how they would fit together on the page. Milne insisted that the illustrations be called “decorations” which they are to this day. 

Interestingly, although Milne wrote no more about Pooh after 1928, Shepard was still illustrating new editions and versions of the stories until just before his death nearly 50 years later.

Q: What accounts for the ongoing popularity of Winnie-the-Pooh almost a century after the bear’s first appearance?

A: There seems to be a universal and timeless appeal to the stories and poems about Winnie-the-Pooh, and if you ask people about them, their face will light up and they will tell you their own story or anecdote about their connection or reminiscence about Pooh. 

Pooh talks to all of us – children of all ages – as the essential nature of the stories and poems appeals to a universal audience – whether in the Americas, in Asia or in Africa.

Q: How did you research this book, and what did you learn that was especially fascinating or surprising?

A: I spent a lot of time going through the Shepard family’s archives, which yielded much fascinating material. 

I was amazed by the close trust between Shepard and Milne – there was a wonderful letter from the London representative of Dutton, Milne’s U.S. publisher, who recalled calling on Milne at this London home in Chelsea, and finding A.A. Milne reading out loud to Christopher Robin in the nursery, playing with his toys, whilst E.H. Shepard sat on the floor beside him and drew from life. 

And interestingly, we found that Shepard had based his drawings (or “decorations”) of Winnie-the-Pooh on his own son, Graham’s, teddy bear, Growler, as both he and Milne decided that the “real” Pooh bear, now in the New York City Public Library, looked too stern and grumpy.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m looking at the amazing correspondence between E.H. Shepard and his wife Florence, always known as Pie, between 1915 and 1919 whilst he was serving in the Army in the First World War. 

He wrote almost every day they were apart, and it’s a fascinating record of both a contemporary view of the day-to-day progress of the “Great War,” and also of a marriage where both partners are unwillingly separated.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The wonderful Winnie-the-Pooh exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, with a wonderful array of exhibits, some of which have never been seen in public before, as well as Shepard’s original drawings from the books, not exhibited for 50 years, is currently on show at the High in Atlanta, and from September to the New Year at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston – well worth a visit!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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