Marvin Bileck and Ashley Bryan:
One Unique Collaboration Before Breakfast

h1 June 2nd, 2015 by jules

“Spades for the circling turrets / Clubs for the towers above /
Diamonds for sparkling windows / And hearts for love …”
(Click to enlarge)


Do you know one reason I like to keep my eye on what Alazar Press is doing? They have previously published the work of Ashley Bryan (see this older 7-Imp post), and they’re doing it again this year. But this time it’s a very unusual collaboration they’re bringing into the spotlight, one that’s been 50 years in the making.

The book is called By Trolley Past Thimbledon Bridge and was released in early May. Once upon a time, Marvin Bileck—illustrator of Rain Makes Applesauce, a 1965 Caldecott Honor Book—created the illustrations for the only children’s manuscript written by Virginia Woolf. However, her estate withdrew the text after more than a decade of Marvin’s work. Ashley Bryan then stepped in to collaborate with Bileck on a new text, securing the help of the legendary Jean Karl, who founded Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Still, though, the book has taken decades to see light of day — and now it is on shelves, thanks to Alazar.

“When [Bileck] told his friend Ashley Bryan,” an opening note from Bileck’s wife states, “they began playfully bantering back and forth with words here and there, in and out of the drawings, and that’s how By Trolley Past Thimbledon Bridge came into being.” It’s a set of ten poems with a hand-lettered text all throughout the book, as well as Bileck’s delicate, whispery illustrations. “Bileck and Bryan capture the stuff of dreams in this mesmerizing and multifaceted pageant,” writes the Kirkus review.

Joseph Gulla of Alazar Press told me a bit about the book:

“Last year, we made two trips to Maine and spent days working on the book, sequencing the pages and discussing other materials that we would like to include. Here [is] an early meeting with Ashley. Rosemarie [Gulla of Alazar Press] and Ashley had a lot of fun working out details and making the first hand-made copy of the book:

It was at one of these meetings that we hatched the idea of taking the poems that are spread throughout the book and placing them on two pages in the early section of the book. So, the poems actually appear twice — once near the beginning of the book and then throughout the body of the book on the pages whose images they accompany:


(Click each to enlarge)


We worked with Emily Nelligan, Marvin’s widow, on some of the details of the book. When we asked for a photo, she sent us a black-and-white of a young Marvin, which we used. We found a photo of Ashley from around the time of his Cooper Union days, so we paired them on the bio page from the book:


(Click to enlarge)


When we think about the book, we think of the friendship between Ashley and Marvin. Marvin had the disappointment of losing the book contract with the Virginia Woolf estate. Ashley spent considerable time helping Marvin shape a new book out of the existing material. Ashley put enormous effort into the wonderfully complimentary poems that are on the pages of the book.”

The folks at Alazar Press have created a website for the book, which includes recordings of Ashley reading the ten poems from the book.

Here’s some more art from the book. Enjoy.


“Skip aboard children / Hurry if you can /
Trolley’s now leaving / For Thimbledon Land …”
(Click to enlarge)


“… The bridge too would crumble / And splash in our / Sassafras Tea! / Ah me!”
(Click to enlarge)


“The journey’s as silent / As snowfalls at night /
Folks think we’re nearby / But we’ve slipped out of sight. …”
(Click to enlarge)


“My dream trolley’s wheels / Shower sparks to the ground /
And grind to a half / As the children hop down. …”
(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge cover)


* * * * * * *

BY TROLLEY PAST THIMBLEDON BRIDGE. Illustrations copyright © 2015 Marvin Bileck and Emily Nelligan Trust. Text copyright © 2015 by Ashley Bryan; Marvin Bileck and Emily Nelligan Trust. All images here used by permission of the publisher, Alazar Press, North Carolina.

One comment to “Marvin Bileck and Ashley Bryan:
One Unique Collaboration Before Breakfast”

  1. When I opened the 7-imp website this morning and saw the image, so many thoughts passed through my head. “Could this be THE Marvin Bileck? It can’t be!” And it turned out to be THE Marvin Bileck. Wow. What a great and touching surprise.

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