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Toronto “jewel” shines brighter with arrival of Wallace archives
Beloved children’s author Ian Wallace offers his original artwork to Osborne

Ken Sparling, Shelf Life, June 2008

Watching 30 years of history go out the door of his Toronto home a few days before he was to depart for his new home in Boston, Ian Wallace felt a strong mix of emotions. “I knew it was the right thing to do, but it was tough watching thirty years of my life being taken away.”

The 30 years of history came in the form of over 400 pieces of Wallace’s original artwork, created for his award-winning children’s picture books, destined for their new home in Toronto Public Library’s Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books. Along with artwork from 21 picture books, Wallace has included rough pencil drawings, drafts for published and unpublished manuscripts, correspondence with publishers, teachers, librarians and children, book layouts and press proofs, work from his student days at the Ontario College of Art, and other material related to each book.

“We are delighted to be in a position to provide access to Mr. Wallace’s work,” says Osborne Collection head Leslie McGrath. “Part of the Wallace collection will be available in the near future for display, and for research by members of the public. Eventually, we hope to have the entire body of work as part of the Osborne’s permanent collection.”

Wallace’s connection to libraries is rooted deeply in his past. “When I was a young boy, maybe three or four years old, my mom regularly took my brothers and me to our neighbourhood branch of the Niagara Falls Public Library. I remember loving the experience.”

In fact, Wallace’s first big break as an artist came at the library when he was just eight years old and he won a drawing competition sponsored by the Niagara Falls Public Library. Both the picture that won him the competition and the book prize he received are part of the Wallace archives at the Osborne.

Winner of over 50 awards and accolades for his work, and one of Canada’s most beloved creators of children’s literature and artwork, Wallace has remained a devoted fan of the public library. In 2005, while Wallace was working on an illustrated version of The Huron Carol, Jamie Hunter, the Director of the Huronia Museum, in Midland, directed Wallace to a book called Codex Canadiensis.

“I’d been discussing with him the clothing worn by the Hurons in the mid-1600s and the difficulty I was having finding any visual references,” explains Wallace. “Jamie told me of a rare book in the collection of the Toronto Reference Library that contained two drawings, one of a native of the Ottawa tribe and another of a Chief of the Illinois Nation. I checked it out, and sure enough, the book was there.”

Wallace is also a frequent user of the reference library picture collection. “Throughout my career, public libraries have played a critical role in the success of my books. Like many artists in Toronto I have found the Picture Loan Collection and its staff to be of enormous value. I couldn’t have accomplished what I have done without libraries and librarians.”

Besides being of interest to people who have grown up with Wallace’s timeless storybooks, the Wallace collection at Osborne will offer an important resource for researchers interested in Canadian publishing. According to Wallace: “My body of work at the Osborne in a tangible way represents a small piece in the history of Canadian publishing for young people, and children’s literature in this country over the past 34 years.”

Wallace’s work will be in good company at the Osborne, which holds original artwork by many well known children’s authors and illustrators, including Marie-Louise Gay, Robin Muller, László Gál and Harvey Chan.

The Osborne Collection had its beginnings in a visit by a British librarian, Edgar Osborne, to Toronto Public Library’s Boys and Girls House branch in 1934. Osborne was impressed by the range and quality of children’s services established and flourishing under the library’s first head of children’s services, Lillian H. Smith. Osborne donated his personal collection of some 2,000 rare and notable children’s books to Toronto Public Library in 1949, as a research collection in historical children’s literature.

From this beginning, the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books has grown to over 80,000 rare and notable modern children’s books, compromising three collections: the Osborne Collection of books published to the end of 1910; the Lillian H. Smith Collection of modern notable titles; and the Canadiana Collection of materials written, published, or substantially related to Canada. Each of these collections includes book-related art, literary archives, games and ephemera.

The Osborne is currently in the process of making its holdings more accessible via the library’s online catalogue, which will make it easier to use for researchers, both in Toronto and beyond.

Part of the reason Ian Wallace has decided to offer his collection to the Osborne at this stage in his career is the accessibility a public library collection allows, along with the possibility of keeping his work together.

“Since the creation of Chin Chiang and the Dragon’s Dance, I’ve wanted to keep my body of work together, if at all possible,” explains Wallace. “Each book was created as a complete entity and I felt each one should remain complete and not disappear into many different households as they would have been had they been sold in a gallery. I also began to imagine that all the books should stay together as a record of how one artist approached the art of illustration.

“The Osborne Collection is a jewel in Toronto,” concludes Wallace. “I wanted my work to be associated with this remarkable collection and with the other writers and illustrators represented there.”

Copyright © Ian Wallace