Unwin, Nora S. (Nora Spicer), 1907-1982

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1907
Death 1982-01-05

Biographical notes:

English children's author/illustrator, born in Surrey, England in 1907. Emigrated to the United States in 1946 and illustrated more than one hundred books for other authors as well as writing and illustrating nine of her own.

From the description of Papers, 1948-1973. (University of Southern Mississippi, Regional Campus). WorldCat record id: 26753834

Nora Spicer Unwin was born in Surbiton, Surrey, England in 1907 and studied at art schools and colleges in England. She worked as a teacher in England and the United States, but most of her career has been as a professional artist and author/illustrator of children's books. The majority of her books are picture books because she believes she has the most scope for illustrations with that type of book. Biographical Source: Something About the Author, vol. 3, pp. 233-235.

From the description of Nora Spicer Unwin Collections 1947-1964. (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis). WorldCat record id: 437297963

Nora Spicer Unwin is the author of self-illustrated books, a painter, book-illustrator and engraver and teacher. She was born in Surrey, England and moved to the United States in 1946. She has received awards, purchase prizes and honorable mentions from the Society of American Graphic Artists (1951), National Assn. of Women Artists (1953), National Academy of Design (1958), Boston Watercolor Society (1965), the Cambridge Art Assn. (1967), Boston Print Makers, the New Hampshire Art Assn., and others.

From the description of Nora Spicer Unwin papers, 1947-1964. (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis). WorldCat record id: 63292351

Nora Spicer Unwin (1907-1982) was an educator, artist, and author born in Surrey, England. She illustrated more than one hundred books for other authors as well as writing and illustrating her own.

From the description of Nora S. Unwin papers, 1926-1973. (University of Oregon Libraries). WorldCat record id: 123357141

Born in a London suburb in 1907, Nora Spicer Unwin grew up in a family, as she put it, “closely connected with books.” Since the early nineteenth century the Unwins had been involved in publishing and printing, founding three different firms and becoming one of the preeminent names in the book world by the 1950s. Referring to this rich family tradition, Unwin once quipped, “I’ve always suspected some printing ink in my blood.” Watching the whole book production process in her father’s printing works, Unwin determined early on that her passion was art, “there was never any doubt that I wanted to be an artist,” she said. Recognizing this passion, Unwin’s parents allowed her to convert an upstairs nursery of their Surrey, England home into her first studio. Shortly thereafter she enrolled in Leon Underwood’s prestigious London art school and then continued her training at the Kingston School of Art and the Royal College of Art where she received her diploma in design in 1932. In eight years of specialized training Unwin explored pottery, wood carving, embroidery, bookbinding, mural decoration, engraving, etching, and architecture, but book illustration and wood engraving where her greatest loves.

It is in these latter media that Unwin’s work is best known. Public recognition of her talent came relatively early: her first illustrating commission came at age eighteen and while at the Royal Academy two of her wood engravings were selected for display in the British Museum. Teaching part-time and illustrating children’s books, Unwin remained in England after receiving her diploma. Unwin credits a wartime job working with children and living in a rural setting as influential in her illustrations. Her interest in children’s literature was also facilitated by her friendship with renowned children’s book author Elizabeth Yates, whom she met in London in 1937 and collaborated with on many book projects.

A one-year visit to Yates and her husband William McGreal’s (also a children’s book author) New Hampshire farmstead home in 1946 turned into a permanent relocation when Unwin fell in love with America. The natural world provided inspiration for many of her illustrations and woodcuts and the New England flora and fauna provided many new sources. Carrying a sketchbook everywhere she went, Unwin captured the local details of her new surroundings in their immediacy. Referring to New England, Unwin wrote, “The rough texture and color of the granite rocks, the swirling flight of swallows, the twinkling light on lakes and rocky streams, the wild color vibrations of fall, the silent beauty of snow and the blueness of shadows over it, the drama of a blizzard; all these found their way into my work.” The exacting detail of her woodcuts for John Kieran’s 1947 Footnotes on Nature are testament to these influences and browsing through her sketchbooks in the collection one immediately gets the sense that Unwin was indeed a close observer of the natural world.

After residing in the country with Yates and McGreal for ten years, Unwin sought a change of scenery. In 1955 she traveled and studied in Mexico, documenting the poverty she witnessed there in her woodcuts and finding inspiration for her children’s book Poquito: The Little Mexican Duck . Upon her return from Mexico, Unwin moved to Wellesley, Massachusetts to be closer to Boston’s cosmopolitan amenities. Visiting museums, attending drawing seminars, and exhibiting her work in her new setting, Unwin continued to illustrate children’s books and she also began teaching art. Tiring of the pace of the city, Unwin moved back to the New Hampshire countryside in 1962. Back in Peterborough, New Hampshire, Unwin continued teaching and working closely with Yates. Unwin remained in New Hampshire teaching, exhibiting her art, and illustrating books until her death in 1982.

In her lifetime, Unwin contributed to more than 100 books by other authors (including twenty-six with Yates), most of them aimed at young audiences, and wrote and illustrated twelve of her own. Unwin is also celebrated as one of the key figures in the twentieth-century renaissance of wood engraving-her engravings continue to be represented in major museum collections and Linda Clark McGoldrick’s recent folio, Nora S. Unwin: Artist and Wood Engraver, celebrates this aspect of Unwin’s opus and includes several fine reproductions. Awards include election to the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York and, with Elizabeth Yates, Unwin earned Newbery mention for Mountain Born and a Newbery Medal for Amos Fortune, Free Man .

From the guide to the Nora S. Unwin papers, 1926-1973, (Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries)

Nora Spicer Unwin was born in Surbiton, Surrey, England in 1907 and studied at art schools and colleges in England. She worked as a teacher in England and the United States, but most of her career has been as a professional artist and author/illustrator of children's books. The majority of her books are picture books because she believes she has the most scope for illustrations with that type of book.

Biographical Source: Something About the Author, vol. 3, pp. 233-235.

From the guide to the Nora Spicer Unwin Collections, 1947-1964, (University of Minnesota Libraries Children's Literature Research Collections [clrc])

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Subjects:

  • Literature
  • Women illustrators
  • Women
  • Children's literature, American--Illustrations
  • Children's literature, American--Authorship
  • Sound Recordings
  • Women authors, American--20th century
  • Children and youth
  • Children's literature--Illustrations
  • Women illustrators--United States
  • Illustration of books--United States--20th century
  • Children's literature, English--20th century
  • Photographs
  • Children's literature, English--Illustrations
  • Illustration of books--20th century

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)