Trina Schart Hyman
(b. 1939)
“Books and illustrations are part of me: They’re not just what I do; they’re what I am.” There is no need for me to try to explain Trina Schart Hyman to you, her words and images will do that for me. 

Childhood

Trina was born on April 8, 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Margaret Doris Bruck and Albert H. Schart. She grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania learning to read and draw at an early age. She credits her mother for instilling in her the joy of books by reading to her from the time she was an infant. She spent a whole year wearing a red satin cape that her mother had made for her because her favorite story was Little Red Riding Hood. 

“I figured out at four years old that somebody had made the pictures in my books and though I didn’t know what these people were called, I knew I wanted to be a book illustrator. . . . I began to make books from my own stories and drew pictures to illustrate them. “

“It was always very clear to me—and to everyone else, too—exactly what I would do when I grew up. I would be an artist, and I would be the sort of artist who made pictures that told stories. It wasn’t until the seventh grade that I learned about the word illustrator, but when I heard it, I knew that that was me.”

Trina’s father fueled her imagination by telling her magical tales about the origins of the universe. He also brought her to the Philadelphia Art Museum on days when they had to drive into the city to visit the orthodontist. She loved exploring the corridors and remembers fondly her favorite painting:
“There’s a little painting by Breughel in a corner of a hallway. It shows a fat man with red stockings, running, running. His hands are clutching at his hat and his satchel. He is running away from a hillside full of sheep! . . . I could feel his fear. Why is the man so afraid? But then, if you look closely, there is a wolf in with the sheep, sneaking closer and closer. Oh no! He’s really Little Red Riding Hood! Oh, Brueghel, I love you.”
About this time, her younger sister Karleen was born. When Karleen was old enough, they shared elaborate fairy adventures together, mostly concocted by Trina to amuse little Karleen.

Education

Although she skipped first grade, Trina never felt like she was a good student, preferring to doodle rather than do the assigned work. It wasn’t until she enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art in 1956 that she blossomed. 

“Suddenly, I was not only allowed to draw all day long, I was expected to! I was surrounded by other artists all day, and we talked, ate, lived and dreamed about art. It was as though I had been living, all my life, in a strange country where I could never quite fit in—and now I had come home.”
In 1959, she married mathematician and engineer, Harris Hyman, and they moved to Boston where he had gotten a job. She continued studying at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts. After graduation in 1960, Trina and her husband moved to Stockholm, Sweden where he attended the university and worked for IBM  part time. During the two years that they lived there, Trina studied at the Konstfackskolan (Swedish State Art School), and illustrated her first children’s book called Toffe och den lilla bilen (Toffe and the Little Car). 

Professional Career

The manuscript of Trina’s first children’s book was written in Swedish, which she had to translate before drawing the illustrations. Upon returning to Boston, Trina met Helen Jones, the children’s book editor of Little, Brown Publishing. Jones was instrumental in helping and guiding Trina’s career. Of her mentor, Trina has said, 

“I guess every young artist needs a special someone—a teacher, a patron, a relative, a friend, or an editor—who will say, “I believe in you. Call me if you need help, but I know you can do it.” I loved and respected her with all my heart and listened to her carefully and learned a lot. She gave me courage and knocked some good sense into me at the same time.”
The Hyman’s had a baby girl, Katrin, in 1963, who Trina describes as being the most “stubborn, aggressive, opinionated baby” that she has ever seen. After a brief move to New York in 1965, they divorced in 1968, and Trina and Katrin moved to Lyme, New Hampshire with friends. 
“During the next five years, I worked harder than I ever had before. With two adults and three children, bills piled up, and although I was getting more and more work to do, there were still many months when there wasn’t enough money for groceries.”
Trina would work late into the night while everyone slept, and her friend Nancie would get up early to get the children off to school. Soon, they bought an old farmhouse in Lyme, where Trina still lives today.

Distrustful of technology, Trina proudly admits to not owning a “mind-destroying, soul-sucking” television, or any other convenience remotely technological. Making a solemn vow at the time of her daughter’s birth, she chose instead to fill their home with hundreds of good books and took the time to read them. She credits this practice with teaching her daughter to read at the age of four.

By 1971, she was approached by the editors of a new children’s magazine called Cricket, and became their art director until 1979. She hired quality illustrators and was instrumental in forming the early style of the magazine, which, no doubt, contributed to its reputation as one of the finest children’s magazine on the market today.

Trina received the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1984 for Little Red Riding Hood, which is still one of her favorite stories.  The following year, she received the Caldecott Medal for Saint George and the Dragon, written by Margaret Hodges, and in 1990, again she received an Honor Medal for Eric Kimmel’s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. Her latest book, A Child's Calendar by John Updike, was just voted a Caldecott Honor Book for 2000.

It was not until her daughter’s marriage to a man from Cameroon, that Trina realized that all of her heroes and heroines were white. She began to see a need for multicultural children’s books. For The Fortune Tellers, she was able to convince writer and friend Lloyd Alexander to change the setting to Cameroon by changing only a few words in his manuscript. She had been to visit Katrin twice while she lived in Cameroon and had fallen for the beautiful countryside and its people. She has described how the silica in the air appears like glitter causing everything to reverberate with color and light. The result is a mood of light airiness awash with color.

In her personal work, Trina has been experimenting with oil painting these days in an effort to give form to her internal visions, some of which would not be appropriate for children’s books. 

“The painting I’m working on now is an angel. But what I would like to do is spirits; I feel like women’s souls are being killed all the time, and I’d like to paint those souls. I have a lot to say about women’s suffering.”
Her work days are shorter now with fewer book contracts by choice. Rheumatoid arthritis has cut her production down to only one book a year.

Influences & Style

Trina likes to study the work of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Charles Robinson, N. C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, and Jessie Willcox Smith when she runs into problems. Painters such as Goya and Rembrandt are also an inspiration to her. She admits that, although,

“Rembrandt’s talent is probably not in my genes, I’ll still work hard to try and live up to his technical skill. I make progress with every book, but am still so frustrated by what I can’t do, and become furious when I can’t translate exactly what I see in terms of vantage point, color, light or composition.”
She feels that the problem of capturing light in her illustrations is the hardest component of illustration to capture, yet the most important.
“Illustrator Garth Williams inspired me to think about light. I was illustrating Snow White when he came to Lyme for a visit. During his stay, he would often look over my shoulder while I worked. ‘You must think more about and in terms of light and light source,’ he told me one day. ‘Light can create drama—light means everything in illustration.’ He was right. I began to open my eyes, and study light.”
Most of Trina’s early work was done in black-and-white line art, or hand-separated limited color, which she describes as an exhausting experience and claims that it has contributed to her health problems. It is hard to fathom that she did not produce her first full-color (not hand-separated) book, Snow White, until 1974, although she had previously illustrated sixty other books! 
“I think of myself as a black-and-white illustrator. Color was something I had to learn. My books are getting more and more colorful and I’m getting better at it. But working in black and white is always a joy—it’s like writing a letter, whereas color is like writing a novel.”
Snow White treated us to what would later become the model of a Hyman book, strong, sexy maidens and gallant knights, living in a darkly dramatic, yet romantic fantasy world.

Raison d’Être

In her 1985 Caldecott Medal speech she says, 

“. . .  for me it has always been easier to draw a picture of what I’ve seen rather than to try to explain it with words. I drew a lot—I think I was born drawing. I drew because I needed to as well as for the sheer joy of it.”
In her Spring 1998 column “Ask Trina!” in Once Upon A Time, she said,
“For me as an artist, I want out of this business, because it’s not doing good things for me mentally and physically. I had dreams about getting away from “The Publishing Industry” some years ago, but I needed to make a living and didn’t know how else to do it. Since then, life’s circumstances have forced me to make some hard choices.”
Certainly, as a single-mother, it was difficult for Trina to raise and support a child, but even before her divorce, Trina had to hire college students to help out with the child care. In Judith Pierce Rosenberg’s excellent book, A Question of Balance: Artists and Writers on Motherhood, Trina talks about the difficulties in being both an artist and a mother.
“I’m a nest-maker. I have had this conversation with every woman artist I know: How do you do your work and your home and your children and your relationships? And we’ve all come to the conclusion that that’s why there aren’t more women artists; it’s why all the really big creative forces were men—because women are split; they’re just schizophrenic about [how] they’ve got to take care of home, children, meals, their husbands or lovers. How to put that all in perspective—how to slot your life—takes up a lot of energy that you could be putting into your work, should be putting into your work. We all feel it and we don’t know what to do about it.”

“If you want to paint, I don’t think you can be a mom, be a waitress to make money, and paint. It’s hard enough to be a mom and paint. I think you need help with your children, even if you only have one child.”

“There are lots of women who have their children and say, “Well, I’ll wait till the children are grown, and then I’ll go back to my career.’ They just suffer agonies. You can’t put being an artist on hold; you have to do it every day.”

“On the other hand, if you’re a woman, how can you not have children? I don’t mean that to be as flip as it sounds; I mean, it’s an opportunity, it’s such an immense experience. It’s one of the ultimate acts of creation, and I wouldn’t have not done that for the world. But it sure makes your life as an artist difficult.’


Interview with Trina Schart Hyman

Books Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

How I Work by Trina Schart Hyman

More Words of Wisdom from Trina Schart Hyman

Trina Schart Hyman Papers—de Grummond Collection
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Self-Portrait: Trina Schart
Hyman, Addison Wesley,
1981.
Self-Portrait: Trina Schart
Hyman, Addison Wesley,
1981.
Self-Portrait: Trina Schart
Hyman, Addison Wesley,
1981.
Self-Portrait: Trina Schart
Hyman, Addison Wesley,
1981.
Self-Portrait: Trina Schart
Hyman, Addison Wesley,
1981.
Self-Portrait: Trina Schart
Hyman, Addison Wesley,
1981.
Self-Portrait: Trina Schart
Hyman, Addison Wesley,
1981.
Self-Portrait: Trina Schart
Hyman, Addison Wesley,
1981.
Self-Portrait: Trina Schart
Hyman, Addison Wesley,
1981.
Self-Portrait: Trina Schart Hyman,
Addison Wesley, 1981.
Sources
Commire, Anne, Something About the Author, volume 46, Detroit, Gale Publishing, 1986.
Hedblad, Alan, Something About the Author, volume 95, Gale Publishing, 1998.
Hyman, Trina Schart, Self-Portrait: Trina Schart Hyman, Addison-Wesley, 1981.
Hyman, Trina Schart, "Ask Trina!", Once Upon a Time, Spring, 1998.
Hyman, Trina Schart, "No TV", The Horn Book Magazine.
Kingman, Lee, Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books 1976-1985, Boston, Horn Book, 1986.
Rosenberg, Judith Pierce, A Question of Balance: Artists and Writers on Motherhood, Watsonville, CA, Papier-Mache Press, 1995.
© 1999–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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