Caldecott-winning children’s author-illustrator Paul Goble, widely known for his picture books inspired by Native American culture and lore, died at his home in Rapid City, S.D., on January 5 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He was 83.
Goble was born in Haslemere, Surrey, England on September 27, 1933. During his acceptance speech for the 1979 Caldecott Medal for The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses (Bradbury), Goble said his fascination with “all things Indian” began very early in his boyhood. His mother would read Native American tales to Goble and his brother, and he would collect pictures from magazines and books about the Plains Indians of North America, a people who especially captured his imagination. A copy of Notes on the North American Indian was one of Goble’s most treasured childhood Christmas gifts, and was the first book in what became an extensive library of Native American culture. Goble has said in his autobiography that Lakota holy man Black Elk is a figure he greatly admired, and a leader who influenced his studies, artwork, and personal philosophy.
Goble served in the British military from 1951 to 1953, where he was a sharpshooter for the army. Later, he earned his National Diploma in Design, with honors, in 1959 from the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. The summer after he graduated, he embarked on a tour of Sioux and Crow reservations in South Dakota and Montana. During that trip, Goble became an adopted member of Yakima and Sioux tribes as was given the name Wakinyan Chikala, translated as Little Thunder.
In 1960 he married author and industrial designer Dorothy Lee, and the couple were raising two children while Goble did freelance industrial design and taught at Ravensbourne College of Art and Design, and the pair collaborated on several children’s book titles. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s he would travel to the U.S. and spend the summers (often with his son Richard in tow) with the Sioux in South Dakota and the Crow in Montana. By 1977, Goble had published four picture books, written with his wife, and had decided to move to the Black Hills to become a fulltime author and illustrator, accepting a position as the artist-in-residence at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. He and Dorothy divorced in 1978.
Goble had a prolific work period from the late 1970s up until roughly 2003, often publishing multiple books in a year. Popular works from this era include Buffalo Woman (Bradbury, 1984), Iktomi and the Boulder: A Plains Indian Story (Orchard, 1988) and several additional tales starring the trickster character Iktomi, and Crow Chief: A Plains Indian Story (Orchard, 1992). Over time, Goble has donated a large body of his paintings to the South Dakota Art Museum, which now owns 500 pieces of original artwork from his books.
In a 1988 interview with Publishers Weekly, Goble explained his research for his books, which consisted of evaluating various versions of the same original tale before creating an adaptation, and striving to present his version of the traditional myths and legends in a poetic style that echoes the oral tradition of the Indians.
Goble published many of his books with Richard Jackson during Jackson’s tenure at both Bradbury Press and Orchard Books. Jackson shared this remembrance, inspired by one of the earliest projects they worked on together. “Paul Goble was an Englishman, in spite of his Rapid City, S.D. address. His words sounded British in conversation. I remember asking him early in our time together—Bob Verrone, my late partner in Bradbury Press, had found his work in England and convinced Marni Hodgkin of Macmillan in London that we should publish Lone Bull’s Horse Raid. Shortly after, I happened to ask Paul about skies in his paintings—for he had up to then always placed his distinctive figures and earthscapes on white pages. ‘Hmmm. I must think about that,’ he said. Next came the remarkable spread in The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses: black cliffs against black sky. Skies became an important element in all his work thereafter except in the Iktomi books, which were visual comedies.”
In 1978, Goble married Janet Filler, whom he had first met during his trips to South Dakota when she worked at her father’s store in Custer. They had one son, Robert, who survives his parents and lives in Rapid City with his daughter and fiancée. Goble is also survived by his son Richard, daughter Julia, and several grandchildren, all living in England. Janet Goble died in 2014.
For the past several years, Goble has been not the creator, but the subject, of a new book—Paul Goble, Storyteller (South Dakota Historical Society Press) by biographer Gregory Bryan, a children’s literature professor at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Bryan’s book launches later this month.
As Goble’s illness progressed, Bryan made sure that the author-illustrator received a rushed advance copy of the book last week. Goble’s son Robert told the Rapid City Journal’s Tom Griffith, “The last smile that ever passed Papa’s face was seeing the first copy of his biography. He considered it the jewel in his crown, the thing that made his career complete.”