ABOUT THE POVERTY ISLAND ILLUSTRATIONS
Poverty Island was the first book published by the Old Lyme Historical Society and the first book that I illustrated. Poverty Island is a memoir written by Neri A. Clark about his teenage years during the Great Depression and the summers he spent living on Poverty Island helping his father gather eels, clams, lobsters, and crabs to support their family. Poverty Island, now known as Great Island, is at the mouth of the Connecticut River in Old Lyme, Connecticut. The shack that they lived in was later destroyed along with several others on the island by the hurricane of 1938. Since then, the island has remained in a natural state.
To create the illustrations I worked with John and Alison Mitchell from the Historical Society. John, a retired environment editor at National Geographic magazine, had a clear vision for the design of the publication. I was provided with a draft of the manuscript and an example of one or two tools from the period.The text is rich with imagery. For example, the author describes clamming on the Black Hall River as follows: "We would arrive at the site just as the receding tide bared the mud surface. Rubber hip boots were the standard footwear. With each step we would sink in the soft mud almost to the knee... When we arrived at the flat each day we looked for an area with a dense supply of holes, indicating a heavy population of clams... We used a tool called a clam hook when digging on the bare mud flat. A clam hook is like a wide-tine spading fork with an eighteen inch handle set at a right angle to the tines. It has four tines seven inches long. Starting out, we would dig up an area about three feet square, throwing the mud behind us. Then, standing in this seven inch deep pit we would start digging in a fan shaped pattern." Using these descriptive clues from the text as a starting point, I then conducted additional research by gathering historical images of eel traps, clamming baskets and tools, clothing, typical New England shoreline shacks, and photos of osprey and their nests.
While I was given the freedom to compose my own images, John requested that the style reflect the time period of the setting of the book, the 1930s. I looked to works by the American Scene artists for direction, especially lithographic prints by John Stuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, and, most notably, Grant Wood. It is a period of art from the post-World War I years that is anti-modernist, in that it rejects modern trends and European influences, is characterized by humble depictions of scenes from everyday life, and has a simplicity yet is executed with precision.
Poverty Island has four illustrations, one for the beginning of each section of the text.
--- Catherine Christiano