While thumbing through a pile of used books for sale by a homeless vendor in Union Square I came across one entitled Through Darkest Adolescence by Richard Armour. The book contained illustrations that depicted the tribulations of young teenagers in concise and thoughtful images rendered in pen-and-ink. The name of the illustrator was Susan Perl, whose work I remembered from years ago in the New York Times.
Born Susan Perlmann in Austria in 1922, she came to the United States as a refugee in 1939. She had a prolific career, illustrating children’s books and magazine articles for Conde Nast, Vogue, Harper’s Bazar, Reader’s Digest, the New York Times, and others. I remembered her illustrations that appeared in the Sunday Times for the Health-Tex company.
I recalled the ads for their multi-racial children with serene, contented expressions and the pudgy little animals they played with. Many of the kids had bright red hair, and they assumed proud stances that showed off their colorful, stylish clothing.
The book I rediscovered in Union Square was indeed special. It depicted young teenagers going through the trauma of adolescence – smoking, kissing, and struggling with schoolwork and pimples. The work had an innocence and psychological honesty that impressed me.
The drawings revealed a playful quality, and her pen-and-ink strokes expressed a spontaneity and emotion that you rarely see in contemporary illustrations produced in digital media. The look and feel was quintessentially New York City, where she spent most of her life.
Susan Perl died in 1983 at the young age of 60. I am gratified that I was able to reconnect with her through the homeless bookseller in Union Square.
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Combining Art and Medicine
A Sketch of my Nobel Prize Winning Professor
Courtroom Art and NYC History
Digging out my Art Students League Sketchbooks
The Ticket that got me Through Medical School
Revisiting my Medical School Sketchbooks
Photographing Wigstock in Tompkins Square Park
Susan Perl did the illustrations for the early sixties reissue of A. A. Milne’s novel ONCE ON A TIME. They are the best book illustrations I have ever. seen The almost universal fault of illustrations of novels is that you always think, “She doesn’t really look like that”–because everybody has their own idea of what the characters look like. In this edition you are sure that King Merriwig of Euralia looks exactly like that–in fact you feel that without those illustrations you wouldn’t really know him. Or the Princess Hyacinth. Or Prince Udo of Araby. Or the Countess Belvane. It is a book that should be much better known, and it is impossible for me to imagine it without those illustrations.
I grew with the books Tell Me Another Joke, and Tell Me Another Riddle. I just acquired a copy of the former, and the pictures take me right back to days when I would enjoy the jokes, but spend more time admiring Ms. Perl’s illustrations. Great to find your website. Thank you for sharing!
I just rediscovered a favorite book from when I was a child; A Pickle for a Nickel by Lillian Moore and illustrated by Susan Perl. Her illustrations are what stand out in my memory, even more than the story line. I wish I could leave a photo here for you.
Was just looking through a Childcraft book that I grew up reading. I decided to look up some of the artists, because they left such an impression in my memeories. Delighted to find this about Susan Perl, and her sister. Thank you!
Thanks for the note Tracy. Did Susan Perl have a sister also an artist?
Susan Perl’s sister was also a prolific 60’s era illustrator. Her name was Erica Perl Merckling and her feminine illustrations graced many teenage books on grooming and beauty. Both were talented but with different styles that overlapped.
Thank you I totally did not know this!
Erica worked mostly in the 1950s. Her work was often in Glamour Magazine. She also illustrated a running series of ads called “The Arkin Girls” that appeared in Vogue.