King on horse, from the book

The Global Artistry of Leo and Diane Dillon

March 28, 2009 - June 21, 2009
The Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation Gallery

From the well loved characters of Dr. Seuss to Kadir Nelson’s historic portraits, the Akron Art Museum has a tradition of showing the work of world-renowned children’s book illustrators. This spring the museum will continue that tradition by hosting an exhibition of work by the beloved illustrating team of Leo and Diane Dillon.

The Dillons are among the most talented and versatile illustrators in the United States. They have earned many awards throughout their prolific career including two back to back Caldecott Medals for "Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears" and "Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions."

Organized by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, The Global Artistry of Leo and Diane Dillon will focus on the global nature of the Dillon’s work, which ranges from African and Native American folktales to Asian and Scandinavian epics. The major theme of their illustrations is that all people, whatever their culture or race, have universal experiences. “We all have a lot in common,” remarks Diane Dillon. “It is our beliefs that divide us. We have little control over what life brings us but we can change our thoughts.”

One example of their focus on universal experiences are the illustrations for "Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions." The alphabet book focuses on the diversity of different African populations, representing each group via a different letter of the alphabet. “We wanted to portray in "Ashanti to Zulu" that there are many different cultures and it’s just not Africa as one big place, but that like the rest of the world, there are many, many cultures,” said Leo Dillon. Each picture includes a dwelling, a family, an animal of some sort, a bird and a landscape.

The dynamic Dillon duo were actually rivals upon first meeting at Parsons School for Design in 1954, but their common interests and passion for art quickly brought them together. Over the years, their competitive friendship evolved into a lasting marriage and a unique artistic partnership.

Diane explains the development of what they call the “third artist,” saying, “We could look at ourselves as one artist rather than two individuals, and that third artist was doing something neither one of us would do. We let it flow the way it flows when an artist is working by themselves and a color goes down that they didn’t quite expect and that affects the next colors they use, and it seems to have a life of its own.” This collaborative process results in the couple’s trademark clean lines, innovative color use and attention to detail as well as a warmth which radiates through each image, filling their characters with life.

The exhibition coincides with the 22nd annual Virginia Hamilton Conference at Kent State University. The conference, which will feature the Dillons as speakers, was established to provide a forum for the discussion of multicultural themes and issues in literature for youth.

This exhibition was organized by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, Abilene, Texas.

Its presentation in Akron is made possible by a generous gift from the Sisler McFawn Foundation.

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