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Baby's Own Aesop

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Baby's Own Aesop
Baby's Own Aesop
Baby’s Own Aesop, first published in 1887, is a book for the nursery created by Walter Crane (1845 – 1915) which leads the reader, and the onlooker, through a series of beautifully elaborate pictures and rhymes. The wood-engraver William James Linton (Walter Crane first knew Linton as an apprentice in his workshop), wrote the verse in imitation of the ancient Greek fabulist Aesop, and the rest – the covers, the endpapers, the frontispiece, lettering and layout – Walter Crane designed, and the printer Edmund Evans printed. Behind it all was the belief that art and design could stimulate a child by being interesting and therefore it could help them learn.

As an artist Walter Crane was affiliated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, which elevated craftsmanship in the face of increasingly mechanised production techniques. Aestheticism and “art for art’s sake” are other common associations. The formal qualities of an artwork were important to him, as was his socialism, especially from the 1880s. His wish was to popularise the arts and make them a part of everybody’s daily lives.

Baby’s Own Aesop is the third publication of three, the others being Baby’s Opera (1877) and Baby’s Bouquet (1878). Throughout, the line and the form show quite how good his understanding of his subjects and settings was, their movement, their poses and anatomy inside the picture space. Old men have old sagging skin; foxes, deer, donkeys and lions are rendered in all their animal detail and plasticity. The use of clear and definite lines was also helpful for the printing process, and over the years, Walter Crane and Edmund Evans became increasingly sophisticated.

Visual literacy in children was a hot topic, and Walter Crane was very much an influential figure. His pages are highly decorative and architectural, colour and pattern abound, as do comedic details and visual puns, most prominently on his own name.