Hudson Talbott is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book biography Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art. Talbott's other books include River of Dreams and From Wolf to Woof. He lives in the Hudson Valley of New York, and in New York City.
Q: Why did you decide to write and illustrate a picture book biography about the artist Thomas Cole?
A: I grew up in Kentucky, where every Kentucky kid learns about Stephen Foster and even goes on a field trip to "My Old Kentucky Home."
When I moved to the Hudson Valley I discovered Cole and felt that the kids around here should take similar pride in the enormous contribution that Thomas Cole made to American culture. He was the first to capture the iconic imagery of America the Beautiful, which we all still hold dear to us.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: I thought I knew a lot already but was surprised to find how little I knew, once I started doing the research, reading several scholarly books on Cole and the art movement he started.
The most surprising thing I learned was his deep concern for the environment, long before anyone else was talking about preservation. I always thought he was just being poetically wistful. No - he was angry and really wanted to sound the alarm while there was still time.
Q: Did you try to create a similar feeling to Cole's work in your own illustrations for the book?
A: Good question. I wanted my illustrations to be distinct from the reproductions of Cole's art in the book, but I didn't want it to be jarring or attention grabbing. I think the use of bolder colors and contemporary compositions keeps the distinction clear.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: First, and foremost, I want to show how much difference one person can make, especially when they have faith in the dream that they are pursuing, being true to themselves.
Secondly, I hope it will get kids to observe and appreciate the nature around them. There's no better way to observe something than to draw it.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have three different book projects under contract and an animated TV series in the works. But everything is on hold now while I devote time to promoting this new book that was just published a few weeks ago. It's like bringing a new baby home!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Folks can get a sample of Picturing America by going to ThomasCole.org., the website of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. And, of course, to see more of my work, just go to my website.
Thanks for asking!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb