Classics Retold: A Tale of Two Cottages (Part 2)
Melinda T. Falgoust
About sixty miles outside of Aberdeen, Scotland is a traditional stone cottage where approximately 130 years ago a prolific, if then little known writer penned what is perhaps one of the greatest literary treasures of all time.
It is perhaps fitting then, that twenty-eight years after the first publication of Treasure Island, gifted artist N.C. Wyeth would use the proceeds from his visually striking illustrations of Stevenson's adventure tale to build his own cottage on the banks of the Brandywine River where he and generations of Wyeths after him would create their own "treasures".
As an elementary school reading teacher, I was always on the hunt for ways to introduce classic literature into the classroom. My search brought me to Treasure Island: A Young Reader's Edition of the Classic Adventure (Running Press, 2002). The appeal of this particular edition of Stevenson's well-known story goes far beyond the adeptly condensed text, which makes it readily accessible to the younger reader. No. The additional "treasure" of this Treasure are the sixteen stunning representations of Wyeth's original oils on canvas.
Contracted by Charles Scribner Sons in 1911, Wyeth created seventeen 3' X 4' canvases to accompany Stevenson's already popular tale for the sum of $2,500. Purportedly, Wyeth completed the entire series in just under four months, but the appeal has lasted far beyond that. Two of the originals are owned by the New York Public Library. One is housed in a Connecticut museum. One was lost to a fire in the 1950s. The remainder of the original canvases belong to the Wyeth family and can be seen at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.
The delight of the Wyeth illustrations can be found on many levels. One is in his skillful use of light and shadow to define peak moments in Stevenson's story, each vignette telling its own story within the story. His depiction of motion succeeds in sweeping the reader up into the action of the story. Each canvas is a visual celebration of the text.
Two cottages...two continents...two masters have successfully come together in a breathtaking example of classic children's literature.