Lovely Ladybirds at Bexhill

I must admit a passion for Ladybird books. I can't remember when I first started collecting them, but it was probably during the Golden Age of Jumble Sales prior to my moving to Brighton. I do remember Sam having Baby's First Book and I love the clear austere hyperreal illustrations. Later I started collecting them as reference for my own cartoon illustration work and now have quite a few. A year or two ago, because of limited shelf space,  I decided to concentrate on the non-fiction titles and let the animal and fairy tales go.

I'd been to see a small exhibition at the old Towner in Eastbourne back in 2004 and when I heard the De La Warr at Bexhill was holding one, with artwork from the Reading University archive, I couldn't wait. Well, I went yesterday and wasn't disappointed, although you get the feeling they have only scratched the surface of the material they must have tucked away. Entitled Ladybird by Design, it is co-curated by Lawrence Zeegen, who wrote the accompanying book (it'd just arrived there and I was apparently the third person in the world to buy one). The artwork is framed so you can see beyond the crop marks to the very edge of the board they were painted on, with all the annotations and dabs of paint (gouache?) visible. You can't imagine what a joy it is to see original artwork close up.

Some interesting product placement in this one
The exhibition starts with some artefacts from the early days - a mock up of A book of birds & eggs and some photos of the Wills and Hepworth printing works in Loughborough, then it's straight into the pictures, starting with the complete artwork for Shopping with mother (1958) illustrated by J Harry Wingfield. There's nothing arty-farty about Ladybird books, the illustrations are near photographic, but with a clarity a photograph couldn't achieve. The current popularity of them on cards etc may be ironic, seeing those quaint gender stereotypes in an idealised UKIP world, but it's also a world of optimism, in the bright technological future.

From The Miner by John Berry (1965)
A few books get the complete treatment: In a big store by John Berry (1973) and Tricks and magic by Robert Ayton (1969) but most books are represented by just one or two images. My favourite series is People at work, all illustrated single-handedly by John Berry - wonderful industrial landscapes in shades of grey! If I have any reservations, I would have preferred to see the show ordered chronologically, rather than thematically, and that goes for the book too. And I'm disappointed that the book does not contain a series checklist for collectors.

Why the duplicates?
There's a whole wall of Ladybird books (with quite a few duplicates!) facing the sea, and outside you can sit, handle and read some. The bookshop has lots of Ladybird related stuff to buy, including some repro books as dear as the originals will now cost you! The exhibition is on until 10 May 2015. I'll be going again, that's for sure. To find out more about Ladybird collecting, check out Helen Day's website.

Repro Ladybirds you can buy