What I recall so vividly from the first OA shows is the unbridled excitement surrounding them. Opening night of the first show was a great release of pent up emotion. At long last someone had recognized what we artists were doing! Here was a show for us!
I recall the big question was, “will anyone show up?” Did they ever. Walking into the sea of people packed into the Master Eagle Gallery was exhilarating. Editors, art directors, agents, publicists, and artists spilling out into the lobby. Dozens of artists had crawled out of their studios to celebrate each other. It was a wild time.
For me, being involved in the hanging of the shows magnified the experience. It was a frantic rush to get it done in time. People would continually drop in and out for an hour here or there, just wanting to take part.
And overseeing it all, to the inevitable strains of If I Had A Hammer, was our fearless leader, Dilys. Fielding a seemingly never ending stream of questions from dozens of people, she managed to stay (outwardly) calm and handle the endless last minute emergencies that came up. Through sheer force of will she brought the Original Art into existence.
The show has evolved over the years. How could it not? The show is now more exclusive and competitive, as befits the nature The Society Of Illustrators, its home after the demise of The Master Eagle. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but the personality is different.
Over the last 25 years there has clearly been an enormous leap in the awareness of children’s books in general, and in the appreciation of the art from these books. Beginning in the early 80’s there was a growing demand for books from the baby boom generation. At the same time an influx of remarkable artists entered the field. People who might have gone into other fields suddenly discovered the well-kept secret of the creatively fertile world of picture books. Higher profile recognition for many artists was now (almost) everywhere.
Exhibits of picture book art are thankfully now a relatively common event. A well-established circuit of venues has now emerged among children’s museums, libraries, and art museums. There are even now a couple of institutions whose sole purpose is to exhibit picture book art.
From my unscientific viewpoint, the market for the selling of art seems to have had its heyday from the late 80’s until the late 90’s. A number of galleries sprang up, only to disappear a few years later. Prices soared for a while, but have now moderated. There are now a few well-established places to buy and sell art. Generally, it seems that the demand is for art by high profile names and from award winning books. The market doesn’t seem to me to be there for all the wonderful art that is being created. But, I could be wrong.